7:00 PM ET, May 15, 2010
While it's been months since the Indiana Fever were eliminated in the WNBA finals, they didn't spend much time lamenting their failure to win the franchise's first championship.After four of their starters played in Europe during the offseason, the defending Eastern Conference champs hope fatigue won't be an issue when they begin the season Saturday hosting the Washington Mystics, who will be without their leading scorer.Indiana lost five of its final seven regular-season games, but shook off its struggles to advance to the playoffs for the fifth straight year after finishing with the best record in the East at 22-12.After defeating Washington 2-0 in the conference semifinals and moving past Detroit, the Fever lost to Phoenix in the WNBA finals in five games.Indiana didn't make many changes in the offseason and its trio of All-Stars in Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown, will be looking to take the Fever all the way this year.One area of concern, though, is that those three along with Ebony Hoffman were involved in the winter Turkish League, which concluded this week. All four, therefore, missed training camp.Even with the possibility of fatigue, Indiana is confident it can overcome those concerns with its depth. The Fever also bring back Briann January (6.9 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Tully Bevilaqua (6.1 ppg, 2.9 apg)."The word pressure has been brought up," Bevilaqua said. "The expectations are definitely there, by the fans, by the organization, the coaches, ourselves. That hasn't been any different from any year I've been with the Fever. We'll go in with that same mentality, that same approach, that our expectations are to make the finals again, and to win the championship."Indiana again will be focused on the defensive end after holding opponents to 59.3 points per game -- best in the Eastern Conference.The Mystics, meanwhile, returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Getting back there, however, may be difficult with Alana Beard missing the season after undergoing ankle surgery.Beard, who averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 rebounds last season, has been Washington's leading scorer each of the last five seasons."We have to understand that we're all going to be counted on every night for different things," Katie Smith told the Mystics' official website. "Life would be a lot easier with Alana here, but I think all of us understand there's a lot for us to carry. All of us are game. Alana will be there cheering us on, and we'll go out there and do what we need to do."Expectations are especially high for Smith, who joined the team as a free agent during the offseason. The third-leading scorer in WNBA history, Smith led the Detroit Shock to two WNBA titles, although she missed the last seven games of last season and the playoffs because of a herniated disc in her back."The timing of the injury allowed me to have a whole full offseason to do what I needed to do and not rush back," Smith said. "Now it's just getting on the floor and getting the rust off and getting the timing back."The Mystics also have a new coach in Julie Plank, who was an assistant with Minnesota last year after eight years as an assistant with Indiana. She is the 11th coach in the franchise's 13-year history.