By Tom Rietmann | May 11, 2010

After last season's Eastern Conference championship and near-miss against Phoenix in the WNBA Finals, the Indiana Fever know exactly what they face in 2010:
Elevated expectations.

From their fans. And from themselves.

“We know that when you come within a couple of minutes of maybe winning the (league) championship, and you win the Eastern Conference, the bar has been raised,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said.

The 2010 regular season begins for the Fever on Saturday night, when the Washington Mystics visit Conseco Fieldhouse. The Mystics will be without star guard Alana Beard, who has undergone ankle surgery.

The Fever, who were shorthanded in veteran numbers throughout training camp, are expected to go into the Washington game with a full contingent. When Fenerbahce completed a sweep of Galatasaray in the best-of-five Turkish League finals on Tuesday, it meant that Indiana starters Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas (of Galatasaray) and Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown (of Fenerbahce) will be back in Indiana in time for Saturday's opener.

Dunn, an adherent to the theory you don't worry about what you can't control, had pushed ahead with training camp plans even as she awaited word on her overseas players. And that plan involved getting her team ready to take the next step and bring a WNBA title to Indiana fans who embraced last season's Finals squad and crammed the fieldhouse.

“Everywhere I go there's a new interest, it seems, in the WNBA,” Dunn said Tuesday at the Fever's media day. “I just think the quality of play has really created a new opportunity for this team in this community.”

But with that opportunity and the lofty expectations comes an element of pressure. Indiana went 22-12 in the regular season last year and extended Phoenix to Game 5 of the Finals before losing 94-86.

“It's a good pressure,” said Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua. “We should be expected to get back there again. We put it on each and every individual that the expectation is we're going to win a (WNBA) championship this year.”

Added veteran guard Shay Murphy: “I don't know if it's pressure. It's more of a responsibility. We're accountable for this. We know what it takes. You can't go backwards. The only choice is to improve and meet those expectations.”

As the Fever went through the 2010 training camp and preseason, Dunn continued her unswerving approach. Defensively, little will change for an Indiana team that has ranked in the top three in steals and scoring defense for five straight seasons. Offensively, there will be even more emphasis on playing an uptempo style after the Fever experienced much success with it in last year's playoffs.

An accompanying goal is to lead the WNBA in free throw attempts. That, Dunn hopes, will result from “an attacking mentality.” The Fever, who were 1-1 in the preseason, attempted 31 free throws in Monday's road game against Chicago after averaging less than 22 a game last season.

The addition of first-round draft pick Jene Morris should boost the transition game for Indiana. Morris has been limited by a hamstring injury in camp but played 16 minutes at Chicago, scoring nine points. At San Diego State, the speedy Morris was the Mountain West Conference's all-time leader in steals with 293 in just three seasons and also averaged 17.1 points as a senior.

Getting her first WNBA action at Chicago opened her eyes.

“I could see where I'm going to fit in with the team” Morris said. “I was running in transition, trying to get easy baskets and especially helping the point guards get the ball up the floor quickly.”

Second-year player Briann January is expected to open the season as the starting point guard. Former starter Bevilaqua is “insurance” and a “mentor,” Dunn said, adding that the 37-year-old veteran will still see plenty of minutes.

And with the return later this week of starters Catchings, Douglas, Sutton-Brown and Hoffman, the Fever will have their most talented group intact. However, it concerns Dunn whether the four players just back from Turkey will be suffering from jet-lag and whether their quick insertion into the lineup will cause a temporary disruption.

“There's always an issue when there's change,” Dunn said. “There's going to be that change in chemistry.”

The fact that Murphy, Jessica Moore and Jessica Davenport were on hand for all of Indiana's training camp proved helpful. All three veterans, who will be key players off the Indiana bench, were acquired after the season started last year and missed intensive camp work. As Dunn said, picking up players without the benefit of camp often leaves them “wandering around in the desert, trying to figure out what's going on” with the offensive and defensive systems.

Dunn said she wants to use her bench players more in the 2010 regular season. The coach second-guessed herself about possibly playing veterans such as Catchings and Douglas too many minutes in 2009. Catchings, who will be 31 in July, and Douglas, who turned 31 last week, both averaged about 32 minutes per game.

“They're in their prime; they're not over the hill,” Dunn said. “But the difference between 30 minutes and 35 minutes is big for these guys.”
Another starter, Sutton-Brown, turned 32 in January.

“We've got three starters 30 or older. You're always aware of that,” Dunn said. “But, then, when I watch (the Phoenix Suns') Steve Nash at 36 and Grant Hill at 37, I'm not going to worry about 30 and 31.”

INDIANAPOLIS – Celebrating their finest season and the first conference championship in franchise history, the Indiana Fever will raise the Eastern Conference championship banner to the Conseco Fieldhouse rafters Saturday night when the Fever hosts its 2010 season opener against the Washington Mystics.

The Fever Opening Night Celebration is presented by St.Vincent Women’s Hospital and the Weekend to End Breast Cancer benefiting St.Vincent Foundation. Opening Night activities include music and entertainment beginning at 5:30 p.m. Fieldhouse doors open at 6 p.m., tipoff is at 7. The Eastern Conference championship banner will be raised prior to tipoff, with the first 5,000 fans receiving replica copies of the championship banner courtesy of Kroger. Fans will also receive Fever cheer stix courtesy of St.Vincent Women’s Hospital. Tickets start at $10.

Returning just in time for Saturday’s celebration are four returning starters who have played overseas in Turkey until this week. Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown will make their 2010 Fever debut when Indiana plays its first home game since Conseco Fieldhouse was sold out for three consecutive playoff dates last fall.

The Fever won the Eastern Conference title last season after a record-setting 22-12 regular season and playoff wins over Washington and Detroit. Indiana advanced to meet the Phoenix Mercury in a WNBA Finals series that brought unprecedented attention to the Fever franchise as Indiana and Phoenix staged one of the highest scoring, most intense and most watched series in league history. The season and the Eastern Conference championship will be celebrated on Saturday night.