September 4, 2020 

Fever face questions, question own effort after losing sixth straight

Just 1.5 games out of final playoff spot, the time is now for Indiana to reverse its skid

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SEPTEMBER 3: Julie Allemand #20 of the Indiana Fever shoots the ball against the Phoenix Mercury on September 3, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages

The Indiana Fever are in the midst of a freefall. After an emotional upset victory over the Seattle Storm on August 20 — after which Coach Marianne Stanley claimed her team had “spanked” any doubters — the Fever have since lost six straight, most recently suffering a beatdown at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday, 105-81.

The Fever’s schedule was challenging towards the beginning of the losing skid, making the results more understandable. The team’s win against the league-leading Storm initiated a brutal stretch with two games each against Seattle and the fifth-place Chicago Sky.

However, Indiana also recently lost to Dallas and Atlanta, two teams currently battling the Fever for the final spot in the WNBA playoffs. Dallas, who currently leads Indiana by one and a half games for eighth place in the standings, swept the season series, 2-0, earning the tiebreaker should the teams finish the season with identical records.

The Fever and Atlanta Dream currently sport the same record, each at 5-13 with four games remaining. These teams split their regular-season series, something to keep in mind should the teams’ even records hold up through the end of the year.

Though the Fever are very much alive and in prime position to make a push towards playoff contention, they still face many questions regarding their on-court play.

For one, they’re still working out an optimal rotation and a starting lineup that can infuse the team with energy coming out of the gates. Tiffany Mitchell has come off the bench in four games since missing three with a wrist injury, a contrast from when she started the first 11 games of the season.

Stanley has previously said that the move resulted from dissatisfaction with the way her team had been starting games, opting to start second-year forward Kennedy Burke instead of Mitchell. Stanley continues to stress that the starting lineup is dynamic, and is subject to change based on what’s working in any given game.

The move did not manifest itself well on Thursday, as the Fever opened the game trailing the Mercury 10-0 within the first 90 seconds.

“I didn’t feel like we came out with the energy that we needed to in the first quarter,” Stanley said. “I was really disappointed with our energy. They shot the ball well then it’s like steamrolling, going downhill.”

Julie Allemand, the Rookie of the Year candidate who has provided a steady, consistent presence at point guard for the Fever, is fed up with the losing. After the Phoenix game, she expressed her frustration with her team’s effort and preparation for games.

“The game is always about details but today, we were not ready to play hard, we were not ready to give energy, to execute the plays, to play defense,” Allemand said. “I think that when we go on the court, we don’t give 100 percent. That’s something that we need to change too.”

The Fever have been plagued by opponent runs that turn close games into 15 to 20 point deficits in just a matter of minutes. After the Fever made a push on Thursday to trim the Phoenix advantage down to three in the waning minutes of the first half, the Mercury promptly responded with a 20-3 run spanning the second and third quarters. The Fever were never able to get any closer than 17 the rest of the way, trailing by as much as 28 in the final period. On Friday against Atlanta, the Dream were able to extend a four-point lead entering the first quarter to 16 in just over five minutes.

Stanley credits these opponent runs to sloppy offensive play, specifically citing turnovers as the team’s kryptonite. Indiana gives the ball away 16.1 times per game, third-most in the WNBA.

“I think we’re optimistic sometimes with our passing and we force things that aren’t there, or someone’s open and we’re not ready to pass when they’re open,” Stanley said. “I can count at least five unforced errors [against Phoenix] that resulted in baskets at the other end, and that’s discouraging.”

Struggling to take care of the ball is not the only thorn in the Fever’s side as of late — their defense is also in limbo. They’ve now allowed three straight opponents to score more than 100 points and shoot above 53 percent from the field.

“It’s just defensive lulls that we go in,” said Tiffany Mitchell. “We just got to be better defensively, I think that’s just been the story of the whole season.”

Indiana’s remaining schedule features games against the 8-10 Connecticut Sun, 13-4 Las Vegas Aces, 2-15 New York Liberty, and 12-5 Minnesota Lynx. With one game behind Dallas in the win column, the Fever will likely have to win at least three of these games and hope for losses from the Wings and the Dream to leapfrog into the postseason. They’ll also have to stave off the 4-12 Washington Mystics, who are also alive for the eighth seed.

If the Fever are indeed going to make a push, they must do so with just nine available players, as Lauren Cox sustained a left knee injury against the Mercury and will miss Saturday’s game against Connecticut. The players that do dress and take the court, however, are attempting to recapture an enjoyment and love of the game, exactly when they need it most.

“We are here to play basketball, to enjoy playing basketball and that’s something we’re missing for the moment and we need to find it back,” Allemand said. “We need to have fun when we play, to play for everybody, and to feel good. That’s just something we’re missing.”

Written by Ben Rosof

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