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Time for Indiana Fever to focus on righting ship


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Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, right, is guarded by New York Liberty forward Nicole Powell during Tuesday's game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, right, is guarded by New York Liberty forward Nicole Powell during Tuesday's game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn directs her team during practice Monday, May 13, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn directs her team during practice Monday, May 13, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


INDIANAPOLIS

Of all the game plans Lin Dunn has drawn up in four decades of coaching women’s basketball, never before has Murphy’s Law been the opponent.

Always quick with an opinion regardless of the subject, the Indiana Fever coach’s thick Tennessee accent is temporarily muted as she attempts to put into words the frustrating start of the 2013 season.

If there was a chance for bad luck to make an appearance, it did for the Fever.

“At one time or another we’ve had seven different players injured,” said Dunn, whose defending WNBA champions opened defense of the franchise’s first title with a 1-7 record. “It’s very unusual. Very unique. It’s a constant catching-up situation.”

Triumphs over Tulsa and Seattle enabled Indiana to assemble a modest two-game win streak entering tonight’s home contest against Connecticut. Finally, a slight breeze at the back of a team that had been dribbling against the winds of misfortune.

The Fever began the regular season May 24 minus gritty guard Erin Phillips (torn right meniscus), 6-foot-5 backup post Jessica Davenport (left tibia stress fracture) and touted rookie guard Layshia Clarendon (college graduation).

Meanwhile, reserve guard Jeanette Pohlen wasn’t available after suffering a torn ACL injury to her left knee during Game 2 of the WNBA Finals series against Minnesota.

Indiana nonetheless managed an impressive 79-64 victory in the opener at San Antonio. It was the same old same old with Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas and Shavonte Zellous producing double-digit point totals.

The momentum proved to be short-lived.

For starters, the evening the Fever received their championship rings and raised a commemorative banner to the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse concluded with an 86-77 loss to Atlanta.

This lit the fuse to six consecutive losses, a stretch in which Dunn was forced to incorporate four different starting lineups in search of a combination — any combination — that functioned with any semblance of consistency at both ends of the floor.

Clarendon, Karima Christmas and Jessica Breland, players originally counted on to be valued backups, suddenly found themselves worked into the Indiana’s primary rotation. Of the 11 players to see the court time this season, only six have performed in all 10 games.

“Some of our bench players are now starters. The more reps they get, the better we are,” said Dunn, whose squad has been idle since last Sunday’s 71-63 defeat of Seattle. “It’s always a good thing to have time off when you’ve had this many injuries. One (player) comes back, one goes out. That’s the way it’s been.”

It’s times like these that the wear and tear players put on their bodies while playing abroad comes into question.

Douglas, 34, and Catchings, 33, between them have made careers of leaving shortly after completion of their WNBA seasons to play professionally in faraway locales such as Russia, Greece and Turkey.

After playing in Indiana’s first two games this season, Douglas has been sidelined the past eight due to soreness in her lower back. A lower back strain also forced Catchings, a portrait of durability throughout her career, to sit out two games.

Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Catchings had played in 141 of 142 regular-season games. In 2012, she was the only WNBA player to start every regular-season and postseason contest.

The seven-time WNBA All-Star and five-time Defensive Player of the Year chooses to look at the Fever’s current situation as more coincidental than anything else.

“You never really know what it is. It might be fatigue or overuse to a certain extent, and the way I play is just different because I do play so hard,” Catchings said of Indiana’s various injuries. “I have not been part of anything like this. But from here it’s a chemistry thing, getting people on the same page.”

Dunn’s stance differed. “I can see how something like this can happen from playing year-round. Their bodies can only take so much,” she said.

Davenport is out for the entire season. Phillips has been cleared to play, though if or how much she’ll be utilized tonight against Connecticut remains to be seen. Pohlen isn’t slated to be 100 percent until deeper into the 34-game regular season.

Douglas, whose back pain is symbolic of the trials and tribulations this Fever team has thus far experienced, hopes to be back in the lineup soon.

This being her 13th WNBA season, the former Perry Meridian High School and Purdue University guard/forward has witnessed too much to go looking for panic buttons to push. After all, 10 games isn’t even one-third of the regular season.

But if Indiana is going to make the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, it needs to make a three-game win streak out of its two-game streak and continue building from there.

The Fever must win 19 of its remaining 24 regular-season games to duplicate last season’s 22-12 record.

“You go game-to-game. This obviously isn’t what we anticipated coming into the season. The sense of urgency has to be turned up,” Douglas said. “Right now the most important game we have is (tonight). That’s kind of been our approach.”

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