Five Key Games in the Second Half
By Rebecca Rider
Break time is over. The All-Star festivities in Connecticut provided a few days of rest for most of the Fever roster, while All-Stars Tamika Catchings and Shavonte Zellous got to show off their skills for a national audience and Lin Dunn’s staff got a closer look at their rivals’ key players. Thursday night’s 70-64 loss at Connecticut marked the start of Indiana’s second half. With 11 games against Eastern Conference foes and the dreaded West Coast road trip coming up, every game matters. These five (well, six) might matter a little more than the rest.
August 3rd vs Chicago; August 6th at Chicago
It might be cheating to count these as one entry, but this home-and-home set is crucial to Indiana’s chances of moving up in the East. The Sky sit atop the Eastern Conference, four-and-a-half games ahead of fourth-place Indiana, but injury news just before the break makes Chicago vulnerable: star rookie Elena Delle Donne will be back from her concussion, but reserve point guard Sharneé Zoll-Norman is out with a broken thumb and center Carolyn Swords is out after knee surgery. The loss of Swords leaves a gaping hole in the post when Sylvia Fowles goes to the bench, a weakness that Indiana’s front line can attack. Indiana also visits Chicago on September 6th as part of a season-ending seven-game sequence against conference opponents. The season series is currently 1-0 in Chicago’s favor.
August 10th vs Atlanta
Much like Chicago, Atlanta has been playing very well, but the injury bug has cost them key pieces. In the Dream’s case, the big injury is to Sancho Lyttle, who will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken foot. They’ve also been without Tiffany Hayes to bolster their bench. If Atlanta is as cold coming out of the break as they were going into it, the Fever will have an opportunity to move up in the Eastern standings. On the other hand, Érika de Souza is a sizeable and formidable presence in the middle, and anything can happen when MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry is on the floor. A win in this one allows Indiana to tie the season series in Atlanta on September 4th.
August 24th at Minnesota
Indiana’s last ESPN game of the regular season is a Saturday night special, and this season’s second rematch of the 2012 Finals. The star-studded Lynx will look both to avenge their Finals loss and sweep the season series. Minnesota has a balanced and potent attack. Not only are All-Stars Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Lindsay Whalen capable of going off for 20, so is sixth woman Monica Wright (you may have heard of her as the future Mrs. Kevin Durant). Though they likely won’t be going head-to-head, the matchup between the best point guard in the West (Whalen) and one of the best point guards in the East in Briann January is intriguing.
September 10th vs Washington
To be the best, you have to beat the best – but to make the playoffs, you have to beat the teams stuck in the middle with you. After a dismal 2012 season, the Mystics have roared back to life behind their two All-Stars, blue-collar forward Crystal Langhorne and fiery guard Ivory Latta. The Fever will need all hands on deck for this one – Mike Thibault regularly goes nine and ten deep, using veteran center Kia Vaughn to stabilize a corps of four rookies. Playoff positioning will likely be a factor in this game.
September 13th vs New York
The last home game of the season for the Fever could very well decide the last playoff berth in the East. New York struggled before the break, including a 21-point loss to Indiana on July 13th, and currently sits fifth in the East, 0.5 games behind Indiana. The Liberty have alternated between inspired streaks and ice-cold stretches. Their success is predicated on a mercilessly physical defense and the offensive potency of superstar guard Cappie Pondexter. When she gets hot, the Liberty can steal a game, as they did on July 23rd in Indiana; when she goes cold, there’s no consistent second offensive option to support her. The season series, and the potential tiebreaker, could be at stake in this game. Both teams have conference road games two days later to close the regular season.