Lin Dunn's only focus is Fever

Fans have shown their appreciation for Lin Dunn as the end of her career approaches, but she's only looking forward. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

It is one thing to announce your retirement. It is another to go on a retirement tour, to be feted as a beloved figure, gather up the gifts and be grateful as you mark your "lasts." And it is another entirely to be in the homestretch, only a handful of games away from walking away from the thing you've done for more than 40 years.

That's where Lin Dunn sits right now. The end of her coaching career isn't an announcement or a season of games away. It is almost here, surely within sight.

And she hasn't given it a second thought.

"It is the last thing on my mind," Dunn said Tuesday. "The only time I think about it is when somebody brings it up. I'm so focused on the team and practice and preparation."

Dunn doesn't have the luxury of introspection. After sweeping the Washington Mystics in the conference semifinals, her Indiana Fever are preparing for their seventh trip to the WNBA Eastern Conference finals since 2005.

Beginning Saturday in Indianapolis, she will be matching her team -- a mix of new faces and the core players who won the 2012 WNBA title -- against a Chicago team that the Fever beat three out of five times during the regular season.

And she is appreciative of her team's experience in this situation.

"We've got players with a lot of playoff experience, and we have successful playoff experience. We've won a title," Dunn said. "I think that's a big plus for us."

Dunn doesn't judge her team on a 16-18 regular-season record, not when she knows all that the Fever went through to reach the postseason for a 10th straight season.

"I think we did an unbelievable job to finish second [in the East]," Dunn said. "Our franchise player [Tamika Catchings] missed 17 games, we had other issues to deal with throughout the season, we brought in a lot of new players. We could easily have not gotten into the playoffs. I don't know how you judge what you've accomplished in a given situation, but I'm pretty dag-gum pleased with second."

Catchings, who missed those 17 games with a back injury before returning to rally the team, said she is proud of what the Fever have accomplished with "their backs against the wall."

But this isn't about that now.

"It doesn't matter what our record was," Catchings said. "Every single game, the next game, that's what matters. We know how we got to this point. And we've been in this situation before, our core group has. It's just a different feel."

Catchings admits that part of the different feel has to do with the fact that the coach who has been on the Fever sideline since 2008 is nearly done with her pioneering career, during which Dunn led Purdue to the Final Four, coached the U.S. to a gold medal at the world championships, and served as coach and general manager of the Seattle Storm.

"We want to send her out on a high note," Catchings said.

Catchings and Dunn have a close relationship, a "friendship," Catchings said.

But it was an evolution.

"In the beginning, we bumped heads. We are both competitors," Catchings said. "Early on, it was, I like it this way and she likes it that way, and over time, and talking through it a lot, we got to the point where we are now."

Catchings said she will miss her unguarded head coach, the one who says what she thinks in every situation, on and off the court.

"She doesn't hold anything back," Catchings said. "All the funny things she says, the little side comments. Sometimes it's good, if it's the right time. And sometimes it's like, 'Seriously?' But what you see is always what you get."

Point guard Briann January has been with Dunn and the Fever for six years. January said she knows what her coach wants from her, and it's always been very clear.

"She's one of the toughest coaches I've ever played for. She's 100 percent all the time. She continues to push me," January said. "I have grown to understand what she expects, what she needs, what she wants to happen, and it's become easy for me to go out there and lead the team like she wants. I'm going to miss her, for sure."

In the meantime, there's business to take care of. And Dunn remains focused on the task at hand, not on the rearview mirror.

"Here is why I'm not thinking about it," Dunn said. "I'm at total and complete peace. I'm not looking forward to the end of the season necessarily, unless it's with a championship trophy. But I'm looking forward to the next chapter. This one is coming to an end and I can say to myself, 'Well done,' and be excited.

"I have no apprehension about it, so I don't dwell on it."