August 30, 2020 

Fever notebook: Rare close game vs Wings, Tiffany Mitchell returns, Jantel Lavender trade

The Fever drop to 0-2 in games decided by five points or less

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Tiffany Mitchell #25 of the Indiana Fever drives tothe basket against the Dallas Wings on August 29, 2020 at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

Fever struggle in rare close game

The Indiana Fever dropped their third straight game and fifth in their last six on Saturday, dropping a contest laden with playoff implications to the Dallas Wings, 82-78. The Fever are still learning how to close out tight games, as this was just their second content decided by five points or less this season. They fell to 0-2 in those situations, after falling to Dallas earlier this season by a 76-73 margin.

Though the game was tied at 72 with 3:56 remaining, the Fever went ice cold down the stretch, missing their next four attempts from the field and committing two turnovers. Up 77-74, Dallas’ Marina Mabrey — a player who Fever Coach Marianne Stanley stressed before the game can get hot — connected on a wide-open triple in the corner with 10 seconds remaining, sealing the win for the Wings.

“We came down and had a couple really good looks at the basket and just didn’t make shots,” Stanley said. “You get in that time period when you come down to the last few minutes of the game and everything else being equal, you can’t stops and then… you can’t score and they get a stop. It just takes two or three possessions to lose control of a game.”

The Fever also struggled to contain Arike Ogunbowale, the league’s leading scorer, who poured in 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting. It was the second time Ogunbowale scored 30 points or more, and 12th time in 16 games that she eclipsed 20.

“You got to be able to make her make tough shots, as tough as possible, some she might hit, some she might miss but you better make her take the tough ones… we let her get too comfortable,” said Kelsey Mitchell. “A player like that will always have the wheels turning, always have the hot hand.”

Ogunbowale erupted for 11 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Wings from a four-point deficit to a narrow lead they were able to hold down the stretch.

“We changed our coverage to try and trap Arike, and I think we got one trap,” Stanley said. “She’s very skilled and just made plays.”

The Fever entered the matchup leading the Wings for the eighth playoff spot by a half-game, but the loss caused the teams to swap places with Dallas reclaiming the final postseason opening. The Fever, at 5-10, have one more regular season game remaining than the 6-10 Wings but have lost the tiebreaker after dropping both regular season games to Dallas.

After an emotional period of time during which the league suspended operations for two days to focus on rest and reflection, Fever Center Teaira McCowan acknowledged that returning to basketball was not the easiest task for the players.

“With everything that’s going on, you can’t not think about it, so we just have to play,” McCowan said. “But it’s not going anywhere. People are out here dying and we’re still playing.”

Tiffany Mitchell’s return

Tiffany Mitchell made her return on Saturday after missing three games with a wrist injury, coming off the bench for the first time this season.

Stanley emphasized after the game that this move wasn’t because of Mitchell’s injury, but rather to continue to roll with what’s been working. Kennedy Burke had seen success in the opening lineup in place of Mitchell, scoring at least 17 points in two of her four starts.

“To me, it doesn’t matter who the starting lineup is,” Stanley said. “It’s that when they get out there, they play well.”

Mitchell scored 13 points against Dallas, but she shot just 1-for-8 from the field including key misses on open three-point attempts and drives to the basket in the waning moments. She was, however, able to convert on 11 of 12 free throw attempts.

Mitchell will likely continue to be on the floor in those tight moments — whether she began the game on the court or on the bench. While Julie Allemand is a bona fide rookie of the year candidate playing over 33 minutes per game, Mitchell played over 29 minutes off the bench. Mitchell’s presence also allows Kelsey Mitchell to play off the ball, alleviating the Fever leading scorer’s ball-handling responsibilities.

Fever trade for Jantel Lavender

Indiana also announced Friday that they’ve acquired nine-year WNBA veteran Jantel Lavender, in addition to a second and third-round draft pick in the 2021 draft, from the Chicago Sky in exchange for Stephanie Mavunga.

Lavender, a 2016 WNBA champion and former Sixth Woman of the Year, underwent season-ending foot surgery in June and will join the team next year. She began her career by playing eight seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks before being traded to the Sky in 2019. She posts career averages of 8.7 points on 50.7% shooting and 4.8 rebounds per game.

“Jantel has great experience, she’s a terrific player but as good of a player as she is, she’s even a better person,” said Stanley about the acquisition. “I think having the championship caliber that she has will lend itself well to our team. She’s got experience, she knows how to win and I’m sure when she gets 100% healthy she’ll be a terrific addition in many ways.”

Lavender will infuse this young Fever team with a consistent, veteran presence similar to that of Candice Dupree. The power forwards’ games are reflective of each others’ as well, as they both specialize in mid-range jumpers off pick-and-pop situations.

Mavunga sustained a facial injury on August 7 against Minnesota, a setback that Stanley said would cost her the remainder of the season. The Fever originally drafted Mavunga out of Ohio State two seasons ago, joining Kelsey Mitchell as the second Buckeye from the 2018 class on the Indiana roster. Mavunga and Mitchell played two seasons together in Columbus.

“That’s a sister of mine,” said Mitchell. “We’ve grown so close over the years. To see her go in a different endeavor, I wish her the best, I wish her love and I think she knows that I love her.”

Written by Ben Rosof

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