Breaking down the Indiana Fever

The Fever finished second in the East last season, but went on to win their first WNBA crown. Brian Spurlock/US Presswire

To the victors go the spoils. Including cool stuff such as getting to be grand marshals of the Indy 500 parade. The WNBA champion Indiana Fever have experienced all kinds of fun since winning the title in October.

The parade's grand marshal in 2012 was Olivia Newton-John, by the way. The Fever have long had a reputation for "getting physical" on defense (OK, a different kind of physical than Olivia was singing about), and their traditionally strong defense helped them beat Minnesota.

But the WNBA Finals were also an offensive triumph for the Fever. Despite missing injured Katie Douglas, they were able to break down the Lynx with the dribble-drive and got clutch scoring even from a lot of players not named Tamika Catchings.

As for Catch, she was magnificent as Finals MVP and got that long-pursued WNBA title; probably even disappointed Lynx fans had to feel a little happy for her. Catch is back in 2013, as is Douglas after surgery on the ankle injury she suffered in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Fever were able to bring back pretty much all the key pieces from their title team for another go at it. Sure, no WNBA team has repeated since Los Angeles in 2001-02, but Indiana just might take the equivalent of the checkered flag once again.

What's new?

Layshia Clarendon, the No. 9 overall draft pick, is just what coach Lin Dunn wanted: a good-sized guard (5 feet, 9 inches) with quickness who can pick up the Fever system very quickly. That Cal Berkeley education is showing, Dunn said. Forward Jessica Breland, who played 13 games combined in 2011 with Connecticut and New York, is attempting to make the team. She would join former North Carolina teammate Erlana Larkins, who was such a big part of the Fever's championship.

What's missing?

Veteran center Tammy Sutton-Brown wasn't brought back, but she sure went out in style with a championship. To begin this season, both guards Erin Phillips (meniscus) and Jeanette Pohlen (rehabbing ACL), and center Jessica Davenport (stress fracture, left leg) are out. There is hope they could all get back around midseason. But how will the Fever manage their roster? Will they get an injury-hardship waiver?

Biggest challenges

The Fever now carry the target as the defending champions, so they'll have to adjust to that. Also, they will be short-handed for a while with players who are not healthy to start the season. And with past championship-winning coaches Bill Laimbeer and Anne Donovan back in the WNBA, plus the most talented Chicago team since the Sky joined the league, the East is no picnic.

Playoff prospects

A ninth consecutive appearance in the postseason seems extremely likely for this veteran group. And if healthy, the Fever can make it back to the WNBA Finals.