Just when it appeared that the walking wounded known as the defending WNBA Champion Indiana Fever couldn’t get any worse, it did.
Saturday afternoon it was determined that Tamika Catchings would be unavailable for that night’s home game against the Chicago Sky. A lower back strain sidelined the popular former Olympian who is the heart of the Fever franchise.
So she joined a list of four other Fever players who will be out until at least mid-July. Catchings’ is a day-to-day absence, and she could play in the Fever’s next game on Tuesday.
Not so fortunate are Jessica Davenport, who will miss the entire season with a left tibia stress fracture, Katie Douglas, Erin Phillips and Jeanette Pohlen. Douglas has a bulging disc in her lower back, Phillips a torn right meniscus and Pohlen a torn left ACL.
Add to that a fifth player, rookie top draft pick Layshia Clarendon, who missed the team’s last game with a sprained ankle, and you have a team that would appear to have less talent to start Saturday’s game than most teams put on the floor for preseason games.
So the team has started looking like anything but a squad capable of defending anything, even the basket. Going into the game Saturday, the Fever had won just one of its first six games.
During this stretch, at least until Catchings comes back, the burden of carrying the team falls to Eriana Larkins, Shavonte Zeilous and Briann January.
For the others on the bench, this stretch is an opportunity to step forward and show head coach Lin Dunn and the rest of the staff that perhaps they deserve playing time even after some of the injuries heal. Which ones and how many of those players step forward may also be the key to exactly how deep a hole the Fever will need to dig out of once the top-tier talent returns.
Those top four who are missing average about eight seasons of WNBA experience apiece. Saturday’s starters average about three years.
The schedule isn’t kind to the Fever, either, as the team travels to Atlanta on Tuesday to open a stretch of three games in six days. Fortunately two of those games are at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (June 28 against Tulsa and June 30 vs. Seattle).
These are trying times indeed for Fever fans. It seems they got very little chance to celebrate last year’s title before giving way to one medical emergency after another to open this season. There may still be some teams Indiana can beat in the interim. They need to beat some of them soon.
“We’ve just got to keep battling,” said Dunn. “We are down to the bare bones. We just need everyone to hit one more shot.”
They came close against Chicago, a team that went into the game with a 4-3 record. But wins will be at a premium for a while, and Indiana will just have to hold on and mark dates off the calendar.