The biggest game of the WNBA regular season happens tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse as the East-leading Fever host the Mercury who have the top spot in the West.
Both Indiana and Phoenix come into this contest with 20 wins and are battling each other for the top overall record in the league which will provide home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Last month, these two squads met in Phoenix with Indiana stealing a road win there and this handicapper feels that tonight’s matchup pitting the Fever’s number one defense against the Mercury’s top fire-powered offense will have the home chalk coming out on top with a cover.
Both the Fever and Mercury have had targets on their backs all season as both teams have far and away led their respective conferences most of the way this year. With the rest of the league having competitive battles on a nightly basis for the rest of the playoff spots, Indiana and Phoenix have had their sights set on the playoffs and wanting as many games in their home arenas as possible. Despite this being an inter-conference matchup, we are bound to see both squads treat it like a preview of the WNBA Finals and go all out against each other.
Phoenix is in one of their toughest spots of the season tonight as they just lost to the Shock in Detroit last night and this will be only their second back to back spot of the whole season tonight when facing the Fever. In their only other back to back spot, it was a home and home set against the Sacramento Monarchs early in the season and they needed overtime to get a win on their home floor after losing in Sacramento the day before. Although the schedule-makers have been kinder to the Mercury than most teams, that all ends tonight and they could get crushed in a spot like this.
Even with the high scoring that Phoenix brings to almost all of their games, it can get slowed down to a halt when visiting a team like the Fever. The low-ranked defense of the Mercury has also given up an average of 94 points a game in road games, including the 100 that the Shock hung on them last night. Diana Tarurasi of Phoenix had one of her most unfocused games of the season and turned the ball over six times. It will not get any easier when facing the Fever as the Mercury gave up 103 points last year in Indiana when facing the same starting five that will take the floor tonight.
Indiana comes into tonight’s game struggling the most that they have all season as they have lost three of their last four games, including a shocking defeat last Saturday on their home floor to the Sacramento Monarchs who have the league’s worst record. It was only the second time all season that the Fever dropped a home game as the Conseco Fieldhouse continues to be a venue with one of the biggest home court edges in the league. With three days of rest since then, I look for the Fever to come out a lot sharper tonight and get a matchup they will be much more up for when the Mercury come to town.
The Fever have allowed an average of only 72 points per game this season and even less than that at home thanks to players in their lineup like Tamika Catchings. With an average of three steals per game this season, Catchings leads the WNBA in takeaways this season and is also the Fever’s top rebounder. Even with Indiana coming out on top in last month’s matchup against Phoenix, Catchings was not in the lineup that night and that will give an even bigger edge for the Fever in tonight’s rematch.
If the Fever find themselves unable to keep the Mercury from running and gunning up and down the floor, they also have some shooters like Katie Douglas who can help answer back any big runs by Phoenix. Douglas has been among the top scorers in the WNBA all season averaging 18 points per game with her and Catchings making up a deadly 1-2 punch for any opponent.
Tully Bevilaqua is also one to watch out for in tonight’s game for Indiana as she had five steals against the Mercury last month making it one of her top efforts of the season. With the style of play that Phoenix brings every night, they do leave themselves open to turning the ball over and I can see Bevilaqua playing just as big of a role in a Fever victory tonight as last month.
The line for tonight’s game came out at Pinnacle Sports favoring the Fever by 3 ½ points and was opened a bit higher at 4 points by Bookmaker. I feel the line is not high enough and is not considering quite a few factors that fall in favor of the Fever like the back to back spot for the Mercury and how Indiana should be fuming after their loss at home over the weekend.
Phoenix also tends to be an over-bet team by WNBA followers due to their impressive scoring numbers, and this generally keeps their line too low when they are an underdog. While I will usually value revenge for what it is worth, I do not feel Phoenix will have enough in the tank physically or mentally to penetrate the rims in Indiana tonight.
Indiana has a talented lineup who should be favored to win the WNBA title at this point and showed they could outhustle the Mercury last month even without Catchings and Tammy Sutton-Brown on the floor. Lay the points with the Fever and look for a lot of missed shots by the Mercury along with sloppy turnovers that will give away the cover.