History might not favor the Indiana Fever repeating as WNBA champions as they must face a No. 1 seed to open the playoffs, but they feel confident and are taking on a team they've fared well against this season.
The only member of the eight-team playoff field with a losing record, the visiting Fever begin their title defense as the Chicago Sky's first-ever postseason opponent Friday night in Game 1 of this best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal.
Only two No. 4 seeds have ever reached the WNBA finals, but neither Atlanta in 2010 nor Charlotte in 2001 won the title. That trend doesn't bother Indiana (16-18), which overcame a 1-7 start and some key injuries to reach the playoffs for a ninth straight year despite posting its first sub-.500 record since going 15-19 in 2004.
"Honestly, we never really looked at 1 through 4," 2012 WNBA finals MVP Tamika Catchings told the Fever's official website. "Our mentality this year was, let's just continue to get better and let's make the playoffs.
"We just look at it as an opportunity. (It is) zero-zero. Now we have to go out there and play ball like we know how."
Though the Fever ranked second-to-last in the WNBA at 70.8 points per game, they kept opponents to a league-low 70.5 per contest. With Catchings (17.7 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) among the league's best and Katie Douglas healthy after a back injury limited her to four regular-season games, the Fever are poised to buck history.
"I don't think anybody wants to play the Indiana Fever," coach Lin Dunn said. "We have playoff experience. We have championship experience. I think everybody knows that we can be dangerous in a short series."
The Sky certainly should.
Chicago (24-10) recorded its first winning season and playoff berth behind rookie of the year favorite and Elena Delle Donne (18.1 ppg), Sylvia Fowles (16.3, league-best 11.5 rpg) and Epiphanny Prince (15.0 ppg).
The Sky won nine of their final 11 and went 14-3 at Allstate Arena, but dropped three of four to Indiana - including both at home by a combined 11 points. Chicago's only win came in the first meeting with Catchings sidelined by a back injury, 71-61 at Indiana on June 22.
Catchings helped Indiana win the last three matchups, averaging 15.0 points and 9.3 rebounds. Delle Done missed one of those losses with a concussion but played in the other three meetings and was held to 13.0 points per game.
"Looking at the regular season, everybody is like, 'You've got Chicago's number.' But I think Chicago is a great team," Catchings said. "What Delle Donne brings to that team ... she plays with so much poise as a rookie."
The Sky concluded the regular season with a 79-66 loss at league-leading Minnesota on Saturday, but remains eager to continue the most successful run in the eight-year history of the franchise.
"We're still confident," Prince said. "We're proud of what we accomplished this season."