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Indiana Fever vs. Connecticut Sun Home-and-Home Weekend Series


FRIDAY,  7.30PM EST:    WNBA Preview  ||   WNBA Live Access  ||  Fever Preview

SUNDAY,  6.00PM EST:   WNBA Preview || WNBA Access || AP Recap of Gm 1

This is the series preview and the game thread for Friday and Sunday's games.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  We're green like that.

There's ten teams on deck tonight.  But fortunately we have WNBA Live Access to stagger the games for us.

The WNBA schedulers have received some criticism lately about games conflicting with the NBA Finals.  The questions echo from Watergate: "What did the WNBA schedulers know about the NBA Finals, and when did they know it?" 

We know the schedulers must navigate the inscrutable forces of international league play and the humiliation of higher priority arena uses (boy band Hanson is in town?), all while cutting travel costs to the bare bones.  Who knows what complex alchemy -- a blood pact between dismal economics and wonky computer-aided rocket science -- those schedulers embarked upon to come up with the WNBA 2010 season schedule.

The butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, and we have the biggest, nastiest oil disaster in the gulf.  Can you really say that by moving those few conflicting WNBA games a day or two off their dates wouldn't have thrown the whole WNBA schedule off?  Can you promise that moving those few games would not cause the looming world-ending disaster of 2012?

I thought not, mundane spectator. 

Despite the flaws in the WNBA schedule, we do have some things to be thankful for.  In particular, God bless the WNBA schedulers for these home-and-home series!

There's an unmatched level of intensity and completeness about them.  Taking a page from baseball, it's a mini-playoff series with the layered complexity of game-to-game adjustment.   At the end of the series, we will have a clear picture of which team is clearly better, or if the teams are relatively even.  In a one-off game, we might not if a home win was simply home court advantage. 

Here are two teams playing great basketball featuring stellar league-leading defenses and modest offenses, stacked with massive depth ready to grind it out this weekend.   This battle will not be a contrast in styles, but a purifiction and a refinement of East Coast basketball.   Massey Ratings gives Connecticut the edge in the series, Hollinger's power rankings put Indiana slightly on top. 

This is a big step up in competition for both teams.  Both teams recently beat the New York Liberty and both blew out the Silver Stars without Becky Hammon. They now each face a formidable and resourceful team at the top of the WNBA.

The Connecticut Sun and the Indiana Fever achieve similar levels of success on the defensive and offensive ends, but do so in substantially different ways, dictated by their personnel. 

Indiana has the edge on defense, led by the incomparable Tamika Catchings.  In raw statistical terms, the Fever out-steal and out-block the Sun 11.4 to 8.3 and 6.3 to 3.0, respectively.  Throw in that Sun games typically have five more possessions per game, and the steals+blocks of 19.7 to 9.3 is huge.  Further, these stats are merely the tip of the defensive harassment iceberg.  For every steal, there are five more deflections and near steals that don't get recorded in the stats. For every block, there are five more shot-changing interferences that do not make it into the box score. All of those deflections and changes in shots affect not only the flow of the other team's offense, but also their confidence.

While all that sounds like a huge defensive advantage for the Fever, Kevin Pelton provides a more holistic estimate of defense, which puts Indiana and Connecticut 1st and 2nd in the league, by a considerable margin.  The Sun appear to achieve that defensive rating through superior rebounding and through positional team defense as opposed heavy pressure backed by steals and blocks. 

The Sun, anchored by the uncommonly polished low post play of rookie Tina Charles, have the cleaner offense.  They also have an enviable inside-outside game bolstered by the outstanding shooting of Tan White and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota.  The Sun also tend to play at a quicker pace, getting about five more shots off per game. 

Meanwhile, the Fever's offense has been carried by the fearsome twosome of Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings.  The bench doesn't shoot particularly well, and the other starters may score opportunistically but do not carry much of an offensive load.  Can the tandem of Catchings-Douglas handle the offensive load all the way to a title?  Can a confident Zellous or an energized Murphy make it a big three? 

In purely statistical terms, the production of the two offenses are as similar as you might find in the league.  Indiana is 9th in FG% at 42.8 and the Sun are 10th at 42.6%.  At the arc, the Fever are 34.7% (7th) and the Sun are 34.3% (9th) but shoot 3 more attempts per game.   The Sun are 79.4% from the line, compared to the Fever's 76%, but they get to the line fewer times than the Fever.

As depth goes, both teams will play 11 players over 10 minutes each, 10 players over 18 minutes each.  The Sun have Asjha Jones back in the starting lineup and have had center Sandrine Gruda back with the team for the past week.  The Fever may get lucky with Gruda not playing her best WNBA game, but otherwise these two teams should show a lot of personalities and styles of play on the court throughout the series. 

This series reminds me of a line from Alien Resurrection.  An alien is feasting on the remains of the captain and a shotgun barrel rises out of a hole in the floor, into the alien's mouth.  Boooom!  Ripley shoots the alien cephalus into bits and climbs out of the hole in the floor. 

Call: It was like killing one of your own kind!

Ripley 8: It was in my way.

That's how this home-and-home series will be for the Connecticut Sun and the Indiana Fever: it won't be personal, but these two teams are in each other's way to the top of the Eastern Conference.  If they have to blow each other's heads off to get there, then that's just how it has to be.