Indiana's loss to Washington earlier this month provided a wake-up call for the Fever, who responded with a late-season charge to secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Though coach Lin Dunn will retire at season's end, her only focus is how to prevent another loss at the hands of the Mystics as this best-of-three first-round series tips off Thursday night in Indianapolis.
Following a 74-61 loss to Washington on Aug. 8, the Fever (16-18) won their next three to earn home-court advantage in this series. With the playoffs sewn up, Dunn rested Tamika Catchings, Erlana Larkins and Briann January for Sunday's 73-61 loss to New York in the regular-season finale.
"More than anything, we need those three, who play harder than anybody, to be fresh," Dunn said.
She's hoping that rest will help Indiana make a run at its second WNBA championship in three years. Dunn is refusing to think about her pending retirement, not even looking past the early stages of Game 1.
"All we're thinking about is Washington - the first four minutes of the Washington game," Dunn said.
The Fever won their last two home games following the loss to the Mystics, which completed a four-game season series that saw each club win twice on the road. They also met twice in the preseason.
"They know us and we know them," Dunn said. "I think it's going to be the team that's the most focused, the most rested, the most aggressive defensively, the one that takes care of the boards."
Washington (16-18) is hoping to regroup after dropping three of four following the win over the Fever, including Saturday's 73-61 loss to New York. Coach Mike Thibault believed that defeat could have been the result of back-to-back contests after the Mystics beat Connecticut the night before.
''It's disappointing to end your home season like that,'' Thibault said. ''I don't know if we were flat from (Friday), but we were bad in the first half. They did whatever they wanted pretty much.''
Ivory Latta scored 15 points against the Liberty and said Washington isn't going to dwell on the loss heading into the playoffs.
''This game is behind us,'' Latta said. ''Clean slate, 0-0 going into the playoffs. We've got to be focused and ready.''
Defensively, the Mystics will have to contend with 35-year-old Tamika Catchings, who has had her minutes limited by Dunn after returning from a back injury July 5.
Catchings averaged 23.0 points during the Fever's recent winning streak, but the Mystics held her to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting in the last matchup.
"Everybody has beaten everybody (in the regular season)," Catchings said. "And now, in the playoffs, your focus is different. The intensity is different. It's about getting into the playoffs and getting to that point where everything just clicks."
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- Tamika Catchings
- the Mystics
- Lin Dunn