7:00 PM ET, September 17, 2009
The Indiana Fever looked like obvious Eastern Conference favorites for most of the regular season. Going into the playoffs, they look more like the walking wounded.A number of injuries to key players will be a primary concern for the top-seeded but reeling Fever as they open the postseason on the road Thursday night against the Washington Mystics, who could also be dealing with a weakened top scorer as they try for their first playoff victory in five years.An 11-game winning streak June 9-July 17 gave Indiana a stranglehold on the East, but the Fever (22-12) hobbled down the stretch, losing seven of their final 10 games.They played some of that time without leading scorer Katie Douglas (ankle) and starting center Tammy Sutton-Brown (toe), although both are expected to suit up Thursday. There's less certainty surrounding All-Star defensive whiz Tamika Catchings, who left Sunday's regular season finale -- a 95-85 loss at Connecticut -- after a collision.The Fever aren't making any excuses for their lackluster finish, which came with little at stake in the standings, but they're hoping to quickly shift back into gear with much more on the line."It is a change of mentality," Catchings said, "but I think the last 10 games we really tried to focus into changing into a playoff mentality and even though we have not won all of them, I think going in we are going to have to use the positive things that came out of it. Our bench played more minutes and getting them accustomed to playing, hopefully they will be ready for us."Indiana will be trying to advance further than it did last year, when the club lost in the first round to eventual league champion Detroit. The Fever have never reached the WNBA finals, but they've also never entered the playoffs as the top seed."We know that if we don't bring our 'A' game, then we might be exiting early and that is certainly not on the plan," guard Tully Bevilaqua said.Washington (16-18) could be an ideal opponent for the Fever considering the Mystics backed into the East's fourth and final playoff spot after losing three of their final four games and nine of their last 14.They've played some of their recent games without leading scorer Alana Beard, who is dealing with a sprained ankle. Even with Beard in the lineup for all four meetings with Indiana this year, however, the Mystics couldn't come up with a win."They're an excellent defensive team, they force a lot of turnovers," Washington coach Julie Plank said of the Fever. "Tamika Catchings is a great player, one of the best in the league, and they have a great inside-outside game."The Mystics were swept out of the first round in their last postseason appearance in 2006, and they haven't won a playoff game since 2004, but they won't have a chance to do so in their home arena. With the Verizon Center booked, the game will be played at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) are in Indianapolis.The Fever will be playing one day after team co-owner Melvin Simon died at 82.