Mystics-Fever Preview

The Associated Press

The Indiana Fever are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but the defending WNBA champs are heading in the right direction.

So are the Washington Mystics.

These teams will try to continue their strong play Friday night in the opener of a home-and-home set at Indiana.

Ravaged by injuries, the Fever (5-8) opened defense of their first title by starting 1-7, including a 64-60 defeat at Washington to June 16 that ended their three-game winning streak in this series.

Indiana, though, has won four of five since. After their starting five from the 2012 finals - Erin Phillips, Briann January, Shavonte Zellous, Tamika Catchings and Erlana Larkins - played together for the first time this season in last Thursday's 69-62 home loss to Minnesota, the Fever rebounded with a 74-53 victory at New York on Saturday. Indiana forced 22 turnovers and outscored the Liberty 31-6 in the third quarter.

"We've been playing a lot with our backups and we've been drilling with them to get better," coach Lin Dunn told the Fever's official website. "We've really focused on our defense and I think that's what helped us tonight."

That's exactly what helped the Mystics (8-7) in an 86-64 victory over San Antonio on Tuesday when they held the Silver Stars scoreless for a 9:26 stretch in the second half.

Since giving up 90.4 points per game in a five-game losing streak that started after the Indiana win, Washington has limited opponents to an average of 69.2 points in winning four of five.

"They attack from jump ball to the last buzzer,'' Silver Stars forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said.

The Mystics will now face a Fever team averaging 73.0 points during its last five games following a four-game stretch it scored 60.5 per contest.

Larkins, who had 15 points Saturday, has set season highs in scoring in each of her last two games, while Phillips has knocked down 5 of 11 3-point attempts and totaled 20 points in those contests - her first following offseason knee surgery.

"Having Erin around definitely has helped us,'' Catchings said. "When we kick it outside she'll hit the shot.''

The Fever, though, will be without star guard Katie Douglas - out since May 31 with a bulging disk in her back - as they go for a sixth straight home win in this series.

Mystics leading scorers Ivory Latta (14.9 ppg) and Crystal Langhorne (13.9) will likely get plenty of attention after scoring 17 and 16, respectively, on June 16, but the Fever will need to keep an eye on Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

The rookie guard has set season highs in scoring in each of the last two games, finishing with 13 points on Tuesday when Washington's reserves nearly equaled the starters' output.

"It's nice to look at a box score where you have 42 points from your bench and 44 from your starters,'' coach Mike Thibault said. "It's just one of those good nights.''

The Mystics host the Fever on Sunday.

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