The Indiana Fever Know It’s Just the Preseason, but…

Indiana Fever forward Stephanie Mavunga blocks a shot during Indiana's preseason victory over the Chicago Sky in Indianapolis on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein
Indiana Fever forward Stephanie Mavunga blocks a shot during Indiana's preseason victory over the Chicago Sky in Indianapolis on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein /

Indiana led the WNBA in several defensive categories during the preseason.  They are confident their defense will help them compete for a playoff spot in 2019.

INDIANAPOLIS — When Candice Dupree played against the Indiana Fever from 2006-2016, she knew it was going to be a physical game.

“I know in the past, playing against Indiana that’s what we always had to deal with,” said Dupree, who played for Chicago and Phoenix before joining Indiana in 2017.  “They were a defensive-minded team.  That was their culture here.  They didn’t try to outscore everyone.  They did the dirt work and I think that’s what we need to get back to.”

The Fever feel like they are starting to regain that mentality after their defense led them to victories in all three of their preseason games.  Players and coaches talked about defense throughout their Media Day on Monday, and for good reason.  They held their opponents to 36.2% shooting in the preseason, which was best in the league.  They also allowed the fewest points per game in the preseason (63.0) and forced the most turnovers (20.3 per game).

Head coach Pokey Chatman knows these preseason games don’t mean much, but she still feels good about what she saw on the defensive end.

“Look, it’s preseason, I get it, but there was a level of intensity, connectivity, and trust.”

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Teaira McCowan and Betnijah Laney are two new players who were brought in for their defense.  McCowan, who was the third pick in the draft, has already provided rim protection that the Fever lacked a year ago.  In 2018, the Fever’s tallest player was 6-foot-4, which often left them undersized on the interior.  During the preseason, the 6-foot-7 rookie has already contested, altered, and blocked shots. She also led the Fever in rebounding in each preseason game.

“Someone sees me and they pull up for a quick jumper and don’t really try to come all the way in and get a layup,” McCowan said.  “We’ve seen that in the three games we’ve had already.”

While McCowan bolsters Indiana’s interior defense, Laney is a tall guard who can help shut down the other team on the perimeter.  The 6′ guard played for Chatman in Chicago in 2015 and 2016.  Laney averaged 9.3 minutes per game last year in Connecticut, but if the preseason is any indication, she is likely to see her minutes increase drastically this year.

“Laney is a defensive powerhouse and she’s intense,” said Fever guard Shenise Johnson, who was ecstatic when Chatman signed Laney on February 5.  “When you have someone out there [like Laney] playing 120% of what they have, it forces everyone else to elevate.  She brings it every single time, so it rubs off.  It’s definitely contagious.”

Indiana hopes this defensive intensity can help them overcome the loss of sharpshooter Victoria Vivians, who is out for the year after tearing her ACL during a game in Israel.  Vivians made 65 three-pointers during her rookie season in 2018.  Only four rookies in WNBA history have ever made more.  One of them is Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell, who made 70 threes last year.  Mitchell, Dupree, and Natalie Achonwa were the only players on the Fever who averaged more than 10 points per game last year.  Vivians’s scoring will be sorely missed.

“We don’t have the most loaded team offensively,” Dupree said.  “Once we understand that and learn that we’re going to have to play team basketball on the offensive end and get stops, we should definitely be able to make the playoffs.”

Dupree said rookie guard Paris Kea has provided a surprising lift to the offense.  The third-round pick out of North Carolina finished third on the team with 7.7 points per game during the preseason.  She played meaningful minutes down the stretch during Indiana’s preseason finale in Dallas, a game that was close throughout the final quarter.

The Fever chose Kea with the 25th pick.  Even though third-round players normally have a difficult time making a WNBA roster, it appears as though Kea is safe from the last roster cut that Chatman has to make before Friday.

“I didn’t even make a predraft call to her because I didn’t think she would still be there at 25,” said Chatman, who was shocked that Kea wasn’t drafted in the second round. “So that’s how blessed I feel to have her.  She’s quick.  She’s athletic.  She’s eager to learn.  So we were elated that she was there.”

The Fever return most of the players who endured last year’s 6-28 season, which was the worst record in franchise history.  Johnson missed last year while rehabbing an ACL injury, but she was still around the team.  She said her teammates are motivated to avoid the feelings they experienced a year ago.

“We’ve lost.  We’ve failed.  We’ve cried.  We’ve endured.  And now (we’re) sick of that.”

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