Coach Brian Winters not yet content, though
The Indiana Fever are off to the best start in their six seasons in the WNBA as the league approaches the midseason All-Star Game on Saturday, but second-year coach Brian Winters still isn't fully satisfied. Brian Winters
He huddled up the players after a recent practice at Conseco Fieldhouse, congratulated them on their 8-5 record, which is good enough for second place in the Eastern Conference, but reminded them there's still half a season to play.
"We are off to the best start in franchise history, and while I'm happy about it, I'm not content with it," Winters said in a courtside interview. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. We need to just get better and improve. Our goal is to be the best at the finish, not the start. Overall, it's been a pretty good start."
It's a good start, but a puzzling series of events has prevented the Fever from having an even better record. They've lost two heartbreaking double-overtime games and missed a chance to steal a game last week against the Los Angeles Sparks when two three-pointers failed as time expired.
Also puzzling is a season-long shooting slump by All-Star Tamika Catchings, who's shooting just 30.4 percent from the field so far but maintaining a team-high 13.7 points per game despite her drought.
Winters, a two-time NBA All-Star himself with the Milwaukee Bucks, said Catchings is giving quality minutes to her team despite her recent shooting problems.
"The only thing Tamika isn't doing is, she isn't shooting well. That doesn't mean she hasn't played well, because she leads our team in steals, assists and rebounds. She fills up a box score in many categories, not just shooting. She hasn't played poorly. I know she can shoot better and I think she will."
The Fever, which lost the final four games of the 2004 season to finish with a disappointing 15-19 record, made major moves in the offseason, drafting Tan White with their No. 2 pick in the draft and signing crafty veteran guard Tully Bevilaqua from the WNBA champion Seattle Storm.
Both players have brought playmaking skills and offensive sparks to the team, especially the quick-moving White, the leading scorer in the NCAA last year. "She's having a good start for her rookie year," Winters said. "She can really slash and score. She's got strength and quickness and skill, and that's not that easy to find. I think she'll get better as we go."
Winters brings 24 years of professional basketball experience to the job of Fever head coach. Known as a great sharpshooter à la Doug Collins during his nine seasons in the NBA (1975-'83), Winters averaged 16.2 points per game over his career before moving into coaching. While playing for the Bucks, one of his teammates was Harvey Catchings, Tamika's dad and a solid player in his own right.
Winters was mentored by hoops coaching legends such as Frank McGuire, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkins. After serving eight years as an assistant coach to Wilkins in Cleveland and Atlanta, he spent time as head coach of the Vancouver Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.
He said that coaching at the WNBA level isn't different than coaching in the NBA, other than the obvious difference of gender.
"Basketball is the same and you coach the same," he said. "You're still teaching the same things: ways to get your post players playing and ways to get your perimeter players playing as well as they can. Setting defense that fits your team. You just try and become the best offensive and defensive team you can."
With his team off to its best start ever despite its best player struggling, Winters has reason to be optimistic for the second half of the season.
Sheryl Swoopes and the two-time WNBA champion Houston Comets come to town for a 7 p.m. Thursday game at Conseco Fieldhouse. It will be "Adopt A Pet Night." Prior to the game the Fever and the Indianapolis Animal Shelter are offering fans a chance to adopt a dog or cat. Fans can leave the arena with a new dog or cat, or make arrangements to pick up the new pet from the Indianapolis Animal Shelter.
Catchings received 93,842 All-Star votes, second in the league behind Swoopes. The game will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday, live on ABC.
Next week, the Fever play home games against conference leader Connecticut and their archrival the Detroit Shock.