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WNBA Eastern Conference finals: Sky vs. Fever

How successful will Fever's Tamika Catchings be guarding Sky's Elena Delle Donne in WNBA playoffs?

Best-of-three

Game 1: 6 p.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse; NBA TV.

Game 2: 3 p.m. Monday at Allstate Arena; NBA TV.

Game 3: 6 p.m. Wednesday at Bankers Life Arena; NBA TV (if necessary).

At stake: Winner meets either Phoenix or defending champion Minnesota in best-of-five WNBA finals beginning Sept. 7 at the West champion's home.

How they got here: No. 4-seed Sky (15-19 regular season) beat No. 1 Atlanta 2-1 in semifinals; No. 2 Indiana (16-18) beat No. 3 Washington 2-0.

Other playoff history: Sky made first postseason appearance last year, losing in opening round to Indiana 2-0. Fever in 10th straight postseason. Won WNBA title in 2012, lost in 2009 finals, lost in Eastern Conference finals in 2005-07-11-13.

Coaches: Sky, Pokey Chatman, fourth year. Indiana, Lin Dunn, seventh year, retiring after this season, inducted into Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June.

Probable starting lineups (points, rebounds, assists per game during playoffs):

Sky: Sylvia Fowles, 6-6, C (13.0, 11.7, .3); Elena Delle Donne, 6-5, F (25.7, 4.0, 3.0); Tamera Young, 6-1, F (12.0, 3.0, 2.7); Epiphanny Prince, 5-9, G (12.3, 5.3, 4.0); Courtney Vandersloot, 5-8, G (5.3, 2.7, 6.7)

Fever: Erlana Larkins, 6-1, F/C (8.5, 11.0, 2.0); Tamika Catchings, 6-1, F (24.0, 10.5, 3.0); Marissa Coleman, 6-1, F (9.0, 3.0, 0.0); Shavonte Zellous, 5-10, G (9.0, 2.0, 1.0); Briann January, 5-8, G (14.0, 1.0, 4.5).

Scouting the Sky: With their starting lineup intact in the playoffs for just the second time all season (the other was June 25), the Sky came from behind to win both road games in Atlanta. Delle Donne had a career performance in the decisive Game 3 (34 points, 17 in the fourth quarter). Sky likely needs more offense from the enigmatic Prince, whose big contribution has been rebounding. Vandersloot had fast start in playoffs, with the winning basket and 13 points in Game 1, but managed just three (on 1 of 7 shooting) in the next 2. Young, who did strong defensive work on the Dream's Angel McCoughtry in Game 3, will be asked to do that again against Catchings.

"It's about containing her, making everything hard for her on offense," Young said of Catchings, leading scorer and rebounder in WNBA playoff history.

Fowles needs to be as big on the boards as she was in the two victories at Atlanta (14 and 15 rebounds). Without forward Jessica Breland, who hurt her shoulder early in game 1, the Sky has essentially a one-woman bench in guard Allie Quigley. Breland has a chance, albeit small, of being able to play during the series.

Scouting the Fever: The multi-talented and selfless Catchings, one of the greatest players in women's basketball history, is at full strength after missing the first half of the season with back problems.

"She never takes a possession off on either offense or defense," Young said. "It's like she never gets tired."

Catchings, WNBA defensive player of the year five times, likely will draw primary defensive responsibility on Delle Donne. Larkins led the league in field goal percentage this season and was fourth in rebounding. The small Indiana team is effective from long range, making 56 more 3s during the regular season than the Sky and finishing third in the league in 3-point percentage. The Fever's formidable defense was second in opponents' 3-point percentage. Indiana also has a short bench, with Karima Christmas (22.4 minutes per game) the only reserve averaging more than 6.9 minutes in the playoffs. The Fever, like Atlanta, will try to push the ball on offense, with point guard January setting a relentlessly fast pace.

Philip Hersh

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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