Tiffany Wheeler Fever vs. Mystics

Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell (3) makes contact with Washington Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins during the first half of a game Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

INDIANAPOLIS -- There are bad days, mean stretches and the dog days of summer.

Then there’s what’s happening to the Indiana Fever.

Taking your lumps is one thing, then there’s taking gut punches. Repeatedly. That’s what’s happening with the Fever.

In a season of up and downs, Friday’s 72-58 loss to the Washington Mystics might be rock bottom for this team. Indiana appeared flat from the opening tip, rimming shots, committing a litany of turnovers, blanking from downtown, getting beaten on the glass and routinely allowing easy looks in the paint. Indiana scored just 11 points in the first quarter and trailed by 20 before halftime.

The second half? Fool’s gold. Though Indiana outscored Washington 30-22 and made the sore respectable in garbage time, early mistakes cost the team and put them in a hole too deep to dig out from.

Silver lining from the second half? They did make one shot from behind the 3-point line. Thanks, Briann January. 

As for Candice Dupree, the team’s leading scorer, she had one more turnover (3) than field goals and scored just four points, 10 less than her season average.

No show.

Erica Wheeler, one of the few athletic players on the Fever’s roster, took to the court with typical gusto but also took her share of lump lumps -- including a rough shot to the head -- en route to a forgettable night of shooting just 3-of-14 from the floor.

Admirable effort. Better luck next time.

Then there’s poor Jasmon Gwathmey, who suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury during the second quarter. The second-year player landed awkwardly on her right knee, tried and failed to walk under her own power and was slow to get up before being assisted to the locker room. No details regarding Gwathmey’s injury were available at press time.

“It’s unfortunate that injuries are so prevalent in sports.” Fever coach Pokey Chatman said. “And you feel for that person. It actually helps in the locker room. It brings people closer together. The communication is different. The collective togetherness is different. It’s better. I heard more talking on the bench tonight than I had in the last two games. People look inside themselves because they know they have to step up.”

jeanette pohlen mavunga vs. mystics

Indiana Fever forward Jeannett Pohlen-Mavunga (32) drives along the baseline against the Washington Mystics during a game Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Step up from being battered, bruised and beaten. That’s the Indiana Fever right now. Ranked last in defensive efficiency and near the bottom on the offensive side.

Meanwhile the Mystics, who played all but 3:14 of Friday’s game without Elena Delle Donne after the All-Star forward left with a right ankle injury. No Delle Donne? No problem. Washington still did everything the Fever couldn’t. They defended, they got easy looks, they cleaned the glass (at least when the game counted), they played winning basketball.

Friday’s loss marks the fourth in a row for the Fever, who possess an unremarkable 7-11 record in the first year since Tamika Catchings called it quits. Making the postseason is more than a necessity with this franchise, it’s a point of pride. Indiana has made the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons, a WNBA record. Now they sit on the outside looking in, 1 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot near the midway point of the season.

And that’s the bad news from just one night.

Wednesday saw the Fever suffer a loss to San Antonio, the worst team in the league. Adding salt to the wound was the loss of Shanice Johnson, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Johnson is one of the few knockdown shooters on a team that’s dead last in three point attempts.

That was after a 21-point road loss to Atlanta, and that was after a home loss to Connecticut. Good news is few and far between for Indiana.

And the future doesn’t bode well, either.

After Friday’s loss comes a formidable four-game tour of the Western Conference. Los Angeles. Phoenix. San Antonio. Dallas. All teams that have bested the Fever this year, often in dominating fashion. Dallas beat them by 27. Phoenix by 23. The road hasn’t been kind to Indiana this season. They’re 2-6 away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I would hope that there is a sense of urgency, I know there is for me,” Dupree said. “But we can’t just have one person, or the coaches. It’s gotta be all 12 players. So we’ll see when we go on the road. I know the record shows that we haven’t been great on the road, so it should be a good test for us.”

And a test they need to pass, lest the Fever stay at home during the playoffs.

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Sports Writer for Nuvo Newsweekly, co-host of The Miller Time Podcast, music critic for The Monitor.

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