September 5, 2023 

The Indiana Fever have been eliminated from playoff contention, but it won’t stop their progress

Fever will fight to the end of a season of tremendous growth

On Friday night, the Indiana Fever lost to the Dallas Wings 110-100, and that eliminated the Fever from playoff contention in 2023.

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Two nights later, Indiana traveled to Dallas and beat the Wings 97-84. While the Fever are out of the playoff hunt for the seventh straight season, they are clearly growing and getting better. They won’t let elimination stop the progress they’ve made after the All-Star break.

“Going forward, whether that be these last three games or going into next season, I think this was a stamp for us as a group,” All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell said.

“It’s just the growth and experience. We couldn’t close these games out early. We just didn’t have those kind of minutes in us, we didn’t know how to finish those,” head coach Christie Sides added after the game. That’s exactly what the Fever want to see down the stretch of a postseason-less campaign — more growth.

This season has been all about progress for the Fever. They wanted to go from the league’s basement to a team that is competing for a playoff spot. They did that, lasting until September 1 before being officially eliminated. In 2022, that date came on July 24. Clearly, they are better and closer to the level of the rest of the teams.

Next year, they want to be in the postseason. They wanted to reach that point this campaign, too, but they just weren’t ready for that. They were too inexperienced and too inconsistent. That typically manifested itself via losses in close games, but it also took the Indiana Fever longer than other teams to break out of slumps. That’s why they have four three-plus game losing streaks.

Their postseason desires will be stronger in 12 months. General manager Lin Dunn made that clear. “We know that this time next year we’ll be a lot better than we are today,” she told The Next last week. The Fever have the plan, and the pieces, to make the playoffs in 2024.

Despite being eliminated this year, they are continuing to grab momentum in their final games of 2023. It will be helpful toward their success next year, both to see what it takes to win and to get reps for their younger players.

Second-year forward NaLyssa Smith just had a career game, for example. She had 30 points in the aforementioned win over the Wings, and she is averaging 19.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game across her last five outings. These final battles, while inconsequential, are helpful for her growth.

“Here on out, these last four games, this is where you find out who you are,” Sides said over the weekend. She wants her team to be better.

That’s what is still at stake for the Indiana Fever in this final week — reps and improvement. It helps that the team has already locked up the top WNBA Draft lottery odds, meaning that wins can’t impact their chances of getting the top pick in a potentially loaded draft. And they aren’t interested in tanking to bank a few losses for next season’s lottery. If they achieve their goals and reach the postseason, that won’t be important.

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Indiana Fever guards Erica Wheeler and Grace Berger celebrate in a game against the Washington Mystics in Capital One Arena on July 19, 2023. (Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra)

“We really have fought. We don’t tank, we don’t give up, we don’t throw games. We play as hard as we can every game, we try to win every game because that’s what our fans expect,” Dunn said. The Fever may be out, but their mindset and goals are still the same.

Truly, that mindset has been working for them for a bit now. They are 5-5 in their last ten games, which spans a month of time, and they are over .500 (5-3) since balancing their rotation by moving Kristy Wallace into the starting lineup on August 10. Their schedule hasn’t been the most difficult, but they’ve been playing much better of late.

“We [were] just talking about that in the locker room. Our mindset [doesn’t] change,” Mitchell said over the weekend.

Indiana is set up well for the future, and being in the mix for much longer than they have been in the past is evidence of that. Rookies Aliyah Boston and Grace Berger look great. Smith has taken steps forward. Even Mitchell is on a tear right now. The Fever are on the right track, and they are one win (or Phoenix Mercury loss) away from not having the worst record in a season for the first time since the wubble.

The team from the Circle City is also approaching their best win total in a season (13) that didn’t feature Tamika Catchings on the roster. With two wins in their final three games, the Fever could pull that off.

“Win,” Boston said of the team’s goals in the final games despite being eliminated. She paused before continuing. “I think that’s still the main focus.”

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The Indiana Fever close the 2023 campaign with Chicago, Connecticut and Minnesota. They have already taken down the Sky and Lynx this season, and the Sun have already locked up the third seed and have little to play for. Two more wins, at least, is plausible for Indiana.

Wallace’s knee injury could hurt. But it’s still possible that the Fever could keep up with their opponents and finish the season with more victories and more momentum, exactly what they want headed into 2024.

“We have a team that is focused on winning. We always want to win. Unfortunately, it didn’t bounce that way for us this year,” Mitchell said. It is unfortunate, but it may end up being the best thing for the Fever. Adding a lottery-level talent and a key free agent could set the franchise up for sustained success.

“I just told [the players] his season for us was about getting this organization back where it was. And that’s what we were doing this year. We were setting some standards,” Sides said. The Indiana Fever have three more games to continue achieving those goals.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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