The Wicked Witches of the WNBA
What a difference an offseason makes.
For years, the Detriot Shock were the Indiana Fever's unconquerable nemesis. Until last year, long time Fever players like Tamika Catchings and Ebony Hoffman simply could not get past Detriot.
"There's not really a key to what it is," Catchings said of the Fever's dominance over Chicago. "I believe our rivalry for them [the Sky] is probably like our rivalry with [the Shock]."
The Wicked Witches of the East's reign of terror, anchored by Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer's brutal will, lasted from 2003 to 2008, when they went to the finals four times and won three titles. Last year of course, the House of Fever dropped like an anvil out of the sky and squashed the Wicked Witches of the East, partially diminished under Rick Mahorn's rule. The Fever put enough pieces in place to finally triumph in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Shock. It wasn't a moment too soon, because the Detroit Shock, like the witch doused with water, evaporated after the loss and will never be seen again.
The Tulsa Shock in the West, perhaps the lesser sister of the Detroit Shock of the East, carries on, but the team (now 1-3) is little like its predecessor. The team in Tulsa has received a warm early welcome from fans, but players have evacuated since Detriot orphaned the franchise. Says Kevin Messenger,
No longer are Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn leading the cast of veterans led by Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford. Smith has gone to Washington, Nolan is taking a year off and Ford remains sidelined with bad knees. That leaves Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton and Shavonte Zellous as top guns from last year’s squad which fell to Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals.
What a world, what a world!
As we look to the game tonight, we have the incomparable freelantz in full effect, on site for the game and will be posting the game thread and recaps, complete with courtside and lockerroom coverage.
As for the Fever, they come to Oklahoma with a few ongoing stories of their own, which provide some keys to this game.
 KT KANT SHOOT?
Justin Albers singled out Katie Douglas' poor shooting since last year's Finals and into the season as a serious issue. She went from the Fever's leading scorer at 17.6 ppg on 41% shooting to just 7.8 ppg on 34% shooting.
Seriously? Is this the same player we were arguing should be an Olympian just last year?...
But maybe, just maybe, she has lost something. Maybe she has played too much basketball. Maybe her legs aren't what they used to be.
As disastrous as that is, it's not like other returned starters Ebony Hoffman and Tammy Sutton-Brown are lighting things up.
I'd like to ask the coaching staff, but haven't had a chance yet, as to what they've seen. Perhaps she's missing open shots or shots she normally makes.
But having actually watched the games, it may be the lackluster offense that is hurting Katie Douglas' shot. First, Katie shot just fine in Turkey. I know the barometric pressure of the sea-side city of Istanbul may have been different, but the latitude is about the same as here. Second, I see her forcing up shots when the offense stagnates. As a primary offensive option, it's her job to force those shots up and her shooting percentage has suffered. Douglas' shooting percentage may be an effect of the offensive health of the team, rather than a cause.
What hasn't suffered, however, is her stifling defense.
Still, as I discuss below, four games in the WNBA is an eternity and "what have you done for me lately, Katie" will rear its head soon. The team has had its second full week of fallow time to get the offense in working order. How Douglas shoots this game, and how starters Hoffman and Sutton-Brown also shoot, is something to watch this game.
 Shay 4 Sixth
The hot press this week in Indianapolis has been the emergent play of Shay Murphy, "the Fever Energizer." Ok, that's a really awful nick, and I promise never to use it again, but I needed to plop in the official link.
"I think the thing that we know for sure now is, Shay wants to be our sixth man, and she's looking good at that sixth-man spot," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "I think she's in a situation where she not only can be the first perimeter player off the bench, but she may start some games when we go small."
Arguably, her perimeter rebounding has always been a part of her game, but now with large minutes she's able to put up wow-numbers. Last week, she carried the Fever in two wins against the Sky with a Lebronesque stat line of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Yowza!
"One of the things we talked about coming into this year was losing Tamecka Dixon and having somebody else come in and step up and fill those shoes, and I think by far, she's come in and played over and beyond expectations," Fever star Tamika Catchings said. "We need her to keep it up."
Sometimes she was the beneficiary of the luck of the anointed, like when she was the recipient of two uncontested layups because she failed to run back on defense after throwing the ball away. She can also miss shots in a hurry. On the other hand, she played really well with Jene Morris also on the floor.
Now is the time whether she can wrest that sixth woman spot that has eluded her. She'll be given the playing time to make her case for the spot. That's something to watch for this game, although I'll be looking for more evidence that it's the Murphy-Morris tandem that makes it all work.
 Fever Assassin Shavonte Zellous' Last Chance?
With so few roster spots and such fierce competition, four lackluster games is enough to go from a top rookie, an established rotation player dropping 11 ppg to traded for a second round pick and the precarious 11th roster spot. That's like sitting in the kitchen trash, just waiting to get thrown out.
Former Tulsa Shock player Zellous will be in a Fever uniform today following a trade yesterday.
For the Fever, the choice was an easy one.
Despite tiny gunner Allie Quigley's surprising triumph in securing the last roster spot over long range shooting bigs, incumbent Christina Wirth and favorite Joy Cheek, Quigley's fate was sealed last weekend when she went 0-2 in 8 minutes and then rookie Jene Morris came in and just killed the Sky with drives, 3-pointers and a few assists, all the while showing off some sick cross-overs.
Meanwhile, it's always smart to pick up a player like Zellous, who has a knack for playing well against your team. Even if you park her on your bench, that's just good security so another team doesn't use that weapon against you. However, when players play well against your team, it's often a sign that they are a good fit with your play style. No one knows why Zellous has played so poorly to start the season. She had the chance to be a big part of the Shock, but lost playing time quickly.
The Fever are hopeful that Zellous can regain her mojo from her rookie season, but she may have to do it with short minutes. If Zellous can succeed anywhere, her best chance should be with the Fever, who have seen her at her best. If not, the Fever didn't give up much for Zellous and may find someone else for that last spot. There is no security when you're 11th on the roster. Ask AQ. One bad game and you may be out of the WNBA. Perhaps forever.
Nolan Richardson's big reason for freeing up Zellous' roster spot, as Dishin n' Swishin reveals, is to get better rebounding in the lineup. Since that's a concern for the coach, that should be something to watch in this game.