Indiana Fever finally gets chance to catch breath, time to 'figure it out' with rare break

INDIANAPOLIS – “You’ll figure it out.”

That’s what Grace Berger said to NaLyssa Smith near the end of the Indiana Fever’s practice Wednesday as the two were set to run a play.

The moment encapsulates the start of the Fever’s season. It’s been game after game after game for the Fever, with very limited practice time for the 2-9 team. The Fever played 11 games in the first 20 days of the year, while no other WNBA team played over nine in that span.

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Because of that, windows for practice time have been few and far between for one of the league’s youngest teams. When Indiana has practiced, it’s mainly been in the form of walkthroughs. For a team adjusting to first-overall pick Caitlin Clark running the show at point guard, there hasn’t been much time to iron out wrinkles. So it makes sense players (like Smith) may not be entirely familiar with the plays.

When the Fever retake the floor on the road against the Washington Mystics on Friday, it will have been five days since being beaten down 104-68 against the New York Liberty on Sunday. That’s the longest break this squad has seen between games this season, with the previous longest break being just three days.

After having Monday and Tuesday off, Wednesday marked the Fever’s first practice at game speed since training camp. It gave the team a chance to truly work on what’s gone wrong so far this year.

“You get to fix all the things that you can’t get right,” coach Christie Sides said. “You can’t get right just watching video, it’s live action. You can’t just walk through things and get better, so just being able to do things live changes the game.”

Sides said much of Wednesday’s practice was centered around repairing Indiana’s league-worst defense, specifically in transition. For Clark — who was named WNBA Rookie of the Month on Monday — she was thrilled to be “competing a lot more” in a practice setting.

“I haven’t got to practice with my team much,” Clark said. “That’s really hard, trying to navigate an offense and you haven’t had much practice time together. So I think that’s something we’re just gonna continue to navigate but it’s already improved a lot, and it’s only gonna continue.”

Clark left the Liberty game with an ear injury, but that didn’t limit her from practicing, although she said it’s still “a little hard to hear.” Clark is still gaining chemistry with her teammates, as evidenced by her 5.4 turnovers per game. But this practice time — along with bonding events like a team dinner on Tuesday — could help correct the team’s struggles and lack of synergy.

Veteran guard Kelsey Mitchell is focused on getting the Fever back on track slowly but surely.

“All you can do is rack up as many reps as you can,” Mitchell said. “You’re not gonna get it all back in a couple days, obviously. But you get your daily deposits and deposit every day, I think in the long run, we’re gonna see the fruits of our labor. That’s the idea.”

The Fever won’t have any more back-to-backs after having two already this year, and they’ll have at least three days between games for the next two weeks. Extended periods of rest and practice should lead to more cohesion on the floor.

The difficulty of the Fever’s schedule will also decrease in June. Eight of the Fever’s first 11 games have come against teams currently in the top five of the WNBA standings (Connecticut, New York, Minnesota, Seattle and Las Vegas). The Fever have only two such games for the remaining nine games in June — at Connecticut on June 10 and at Seattle on June 27.

If the Fever have seemed out of sorts so far this year, it’s because they haven’t had much time working together. But now, the hellish stretch of scheduling the team had to begin the year is behind them, and there’s an opening for the Fever to show growth.

Good or bad, what the Fever show in the coming weeks will be more indicative of who they are than what occurred to start the year.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Fever using extended break to gain chemistry, practice reps