Sun-Fever Preview


Sun-Fever Preview

The Eastern Conference finals features a matchup of the last two WNBA MVPs, with Tina Charles and the Connecticut Sun winning the series opener.

Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn likely is banking on Tamika Catchings having a better performance to help back her bold prediction for Game 2.

The visiting Sun look to return to the WNBA finals for the first time in seven years Monday night by sweeping the Fever, who hope to send the series back to Connecticut for a decisive third game.

Charles averaged 18.0 points and a league-high 10.5 rebounds in the regular season while leading Connecticut to the East's top seed and capturing the MVP in only her second season.

She scored 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added four blocks to guide the Sun to a 76-64 win over Indiana in Game 1 on Friday. She had 10 points and six rebounds in the third quarter to help break open a game that was tied at 30 at halftime.

Kara Lawson scored 16 points and Tan White added 13 for Connecticut, which has won eight of nine.

``In the second half I just wanted to set the tone, just getting on the (offensive) boards as much as I could to score,'' Charles said.

Catchings, the 2011 MVP, struggled for the Fever, as Asjha Jones held her to seven points and 2-of-14 shooting.

``Defense is always my priority,'' said Jones, who also scored 11 points. ``Guarding her was my main focus, trying to stay between her and the basket.''

Coach Mike Thibault said shutting down Catchings was a main factor in the Sun taking the upper hand in the series.

``We just made her work to catch the ball, and made her uncomfortable when she caught it,'' Thibault said. ``Asjha, I thought, did a terrific job. It was a key matchup.''

Connecticut looks to complete the sweep in order to return to the WNBA finals for the first time since 2005 - the second straight year the Sun lost in the finals. Dunn, though, sees things going a different way in Game 2.

``We're going to take away five of those second-chance points (for the Sun),'' Dunn said. ``We're going to get four or five more of our shots. We're going to get to the free-throw line two or three more times and we're going to win the second game.''

If Catchings again struggles in her bid to extend Indiana's season, Dunn may need Katie Douglas to have another solid game to support that prediction.

Douglas, who spent her first seven seasons with the Connecticut franchise, scored a game-high 27 points while hitting 11 of 19 shots, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range.

``I like it here in Connecticut,'' Douglas said. ``I'm very comfortable with the rims, the floor, the lighting, you know, everything that a shooter kind of needs.''

Douglas, who scored 24 points Tuesday to help Indiana eliminate Atlanta, hopes to help the Fever force a decisive Game 3 back in Connecticut on Thursday.

The Fever haven't appeared in the WNBA finals since falling to Phoenix in five games in 2009.

Quick Links

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night


Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.


Quick Links

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

USA Today Sports Images

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.