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Fever look to close out WNBA Finals in Game 4

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Fever look to close out WNBA Finals in Game 4

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Tamika Catchings hasn't forgotten how close she came to clearing the biggest hurdle of her basketball career.

Catchings is a seven-time All-Star, five time defensive player of the year and the 2011 WNBA MVP. She also has won three Olympic gold medals, but is still seeking her first league championship.

That almost changed in 2009. The Fever led Phoenix 2-1 in the best-of-five WNBA Finals and hosted Game 4 at home. The city was fired up and ready to celebrate, but the Mercury beat the Fever 90-77, took the series back to Phoenix and won the title at home in Game 5.

Indiana is again on the cusp of the championship after beating Minnesota 76-59 in Game 3 of the finals on Friday to take a 2-1 lead. Once again, the Fever can clinch at home. This time, Catchings will take a different approach.

``Don't let your highs get you too high and let your lows get you too low,'' she said Saturday. ``I felt like we celebrated too much after Game 3 in 2009 and we came out in Game 4 and had an opportunity and we let it slip away.''

The Fever are in position to win the title, in part, because of Shavonte Zellous' career-high 30 points on Friday. Indiana led 70-33 late in the third quarter, the largest lead ever for a team in a finals game.

Catchings expects a tougher contest on Sunday.

``I think that, for us, it's going to be a 40-minute game,'' she said. ``We're going to have to come out and play Fever basketball for 40 minutes. We talked about that as a team, just not getting content with where we're at. We're 40 minutes away, so we have to come out and stay focused and stay ready.''

A win by the defending champion Lynx - vying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles in 2001 and '02 - would send the series back to Minneapolis for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Minnesota was embarrassed by its play in Game 3, but is focused on the fact that they can still win the title.

``We are disappointed with yesterday,'' Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson said. ``That is done and over with. We can't do anything about that. We have to be optimistic about tomorrow and being able to do what we have to do. We haven't lost any confidence we still know what we are capable of doing. So we are just going to step on the court tomorrow and prove it.''

Catchings knows how talented the Lynx are - she played with Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen on the U.S. Olympic team at the London Games during the summer. Anything less than absolute focus could extend the series.

``We've talked about defense, we've talked about offense, making a few changes, but really I think the biggest thing is just intensity,'' Catchings said.

Fever center Erlana Larkins has had 15 rebounds in each of Indiana's wins in the series. Larkins said team rebounding will play a role in whether the Fever can end the series on Sunday.

``We have to come out and continue to be in attack mode,'' she said. ``We have to rebound most importantly and then, secondly, continue to take care of the ball.''

Minnesota took the intensity to the Fever in Game 2, but Indiana was more assertive in Game 3. Whalen said that needs to change in Game 4.

``We need to be coming out with a little more aggressive mindset and mentality,'' she said. ``You wish you weren't saying that in the finals, that you have to get up there and be more intense and be more on the ball, but we need to have that. Good thing for us because we have another game tomorrow night to come out here and do better.''

Minnesota outscored the Fever 21-6 in the fourth quarter on Friday. Minnesota hopes to draw from the strong finish, even though the game was clearly decided at that point.

``What we do want to bottle up is the energy and intensity that the second group, the bench players, came in and played with,'' Augustus said.

Indiana will be without reserve guard Jeanette Pohlen for the rest of the series. The Fever announced that she tore the ACL in her left knee during Game 2 in Minneapolis. Fever guard Katie Douglas has missed the whole series with a sprained left ankle.

Minnesota didn't seem concerned about either situation.

``Them being down two players has nothing to do with anything,'' Brunson said. ``They have been playing well without them. So it's not like this is something new that just happened for tomorrow night. They have been playing extremely well with the team that they have and they are going to play that way tomorrow.''

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

GAME 5: WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT TORONTO RAPTORS

Series: Series tied 2-2
Where: Air Canada Centre
Tip-off: 7:02 p.m. (earlier tipoff than usual)
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Pivotal game

The Wizards have done their part in winning both games at home to even up this series at 2-2. Now comes Game 5, which could very well determine who takes this series.

Winners of Game 5 in a seven-game series tied at 2-2 hold a 164-34 (.828) record all-time. That means teams that lose Game 5 come back to win the final two games and the series only 17.2 percent of the time.

The Wizards need to get this one and they know all too well why. Last year they were in this same position in their second round series against the Boston Celtics. They went down 0-2, won the next two games but then lost Game 5 and ultimately the series in seven games.

Road warriors

The Wizards will also have to do something they have yet to do in a while in Game 5 and that is win on the road. Though they have won eight straight home postseason games, they have lost their last six on the road. It goes back to that Celtics series when Washington lost all four games in Boston. The last time they won on the road in the playoffs was Game 6 last year against the Hawks.

The Raptors are particularly tough in Toronto. They were 34-7 this season at home, tied with the Houston Rockets for the best record in the NBA. 

The recent historical odds are also in Toronto's favor. Since 2003, the home team has won each of the first four games in a seven-game series 35 times. In those series, the home team has held a Game 5 record of 22-13 and a series record of 26-9. If the Raptors get Game 5, history will be on their side to go on to win the series.

Can Otto get going?

Games 3 and 4 in Washington saw All-Star Bradley Beal break out to score 28 and 31 points. Will we see the same from Otto Porter before this series is over?

Game 4 seemed to suggest that is possible. After scoring only one point in the first half, Porter erupted for 10 points in the third quarter alone. Though he only scored 12 points in the game overall, it was the most aggressive we have seen him all series.

Porter is averaging just 10.3 points per game through four playoff games. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three, and as long as the Wizards are winning he won't complain, but Porter can do much more than that on offense. If he starts scoring more, the Wizards will be tough to stop.

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MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

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WALL IS BOYCOTTING DRAKE'S MUSIC DURING SERIES

OUBRE IS HELPING THE WIZARDS WIN IN MANY WAYS

For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Need to Know: Final Redskins seven-round mock draft

Need to Know: Final Redskins seven-round mock draft

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, April 25, one day before the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.  

Final seven-round Redskins mock draft

Here we go. No trades. If you like big guys you’ll like the first four picks. 

Round 1, DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama—I think that Vita Vea will be off the board; it’s looking more and more like he will go the Raiders at 10 or Miami at 11. Payne might be the better player anyway, assuming that Jim Tomsula can coach some pass rush out of him. If Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James is on the board the Redskins may have to adjust their thinking. 

Round 2, OL Billy Price, Ohio State—I had a running back in mind here but the run at the position came earlier than expected. Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb were all off the board. The decision was to get a guy to insert at left guard and complete a home-grown O-line that can hopefully create running room for whatever back takes the handoff. 

Round 4, RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State—I’m going with the best available running back here. The analytics types really like his combination of size (6-1, 228) and speed (4.46 in the 40 at the combine). Also, he shared carries with the Sun Devils so is a relatively low-mileage back (450 carries in four years). Ballage scored eight touchdowns in a game as a junior so he could be what the team needs in the red zone. 

Round 5, DL R.J. McIntosh, Miami—The Redskins have spent so little draft capital on the defensive line over the past two decades that it’s easy to justify doubling up there in one draft. McIntosh is a project, but he has high-level athleticism and quickness and those are traits you can’t teach. It might take him all of this year and next offseason in the weight room to build up his core strength and to add some weight onto his 286-lb. frame. 

Round 5, CB Nick Nelson, Wisconsin—While working out for the Lions last week, Nelson suffered a torn meniscus. That dropped his draft stock from perhaps being a Day 2 pick to one who should still be on the board on Saturday afternoon. The rehab for the 2017 All-Big Ten selection has been estimated at three to four months, meaning that he could be ready for the start of training camp. One more note: he was the Badgers’ punt returner last year and he averaged 8.6 yards per return with one touchdown. 

Round 6, TE David Wells, San Diego St.—While Jay Gruden and Doug Williams both seem to be confident that Jordan Reed will be healthy and ready to go by the time the regular season starts the truth will emerge in the draft. If they take a tight end early, they are very concerned about Reed. If they wait until this point in the draft and take a project like Wells, they are only moderately worried. 

Round 7, WR Auden Tate, Florida State—He’s coming off of a separated shoulder and that might push the 6-4 Tate down the board. Tate would be a project; he only caught 65 passes in 22 game at Florida State. He doesn’t have blazing speed (4.68 in the 40) but he competes for the ball and he could be a good red zone asset. 

Round 7, CB Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech—You can’t have too many corners or edge rushers and since there aren’t enough of the latter to go around in this draft I took a corner here. Stroman doesn’t have ideal size at 5-11, 182 but he paid attention during his four years with the Hokies and he plays with good technique. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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In response to a suggestion that former kick returner Devin Hester should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer:

Timeline 

Days until:

—Rookie minicamp (5/11) 16
—OTAs start (5/22) 27
—Training camp starts (7/26) 92

The Redskins last played a game 115 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 137 days. 

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