Last season was another big ''almost'' for the Indiana Fever.
Indiana has been to the playoffs seven consecutive years, including four trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and a trip to the WNBA Finals in 2009. Last season, Tamika Catchings had an MVP year and the Fever had home-court advantage but lost to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals as their star struggled with plantar fasciitis in her right foot.
Catchings and the Fever are back with a veteran roster that expects to make another run at a title, beginning Saturday at home against Atlanta.
Catchings said winning the MVP award hasn't changed anything for her.
''I enjoy what I do,'' she said. ''It's not really pressure. My ultimate goal, even before winning that was to win a championship, and that's my goal now.''
It's rare for a reigning MVP to switch positions, but the 32-year-old Catchings will shift from small forward to power forward. She played power forward in college and believes the move will help the team.
''You know how I am,'' she said. ''Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm going to do. It's a good transition. If I can learn and get comfortable there, and I'm already comfortable playing on the wing, it just adds to the all-around game.''
Fever coach Lin Dunn said Catchings' move will give the team flexibility and a bigger lineup.
Fever point guard Briann January likes the potential.
''It's a definite advantage for us,'' she said. ''It's a definite mismatch for a lot of teams because a lot of 4s cannot guard her at all. It's a nice look for us.''
Fever guard Katie Douglas understands the move but isn't entirely thrilled.
''Normally, we have eye contact, and it's a non-verbal communication,'' Douglas said. ''I can't make eye contact with her because she's not in her usual spot. Ever since I came here, she was kind of my sidekick on the wing. It's going to be different.''
January was a key missing component last year. The ultra-quick point guard tore an ACL and played in just 10 games last season. Recovery was slow at first.
''For a long time, they kept that short leash on me and wanted me to take it slow,'' she said. ''I've actually been out there and able to play for a while now. The intensity and the level has definitely stepped up, and that's what I'm getting used to now.''
Just in time for the season opener.
''It's feeling good,'' she said after a preseason win over San Antonio. ''I'm just out there playing basketball, getting comfortable with my teammates.''
January's absence gave the Fever a chance to look at Erin Phillips. The Australian stepped in admirably and has earned a spot in the rotation this year, even with January's return.
''They can both play the 2,'' Dunn said. ''They're not limited to one position. We're going to experiment some with them out there together. It sounds like a problem, but I like that kind of problem.''
Some new faces have joined the veterans to give Dunn a squad she says might be her deepest since she took the Indiana job in 2008.
Roneeka Hodges averaged a team-best 13 points per game in the preseason. The eight-year guard was acquired in a trade that sent Tangela Smith to San Antonio. The Fever also added Georgia Tech's Sasha Goodlett in the first round of this year's draft. Dunn said the 6-foot-5 center has potential, but she's getting used to the speed of the pro game. She'll help Jessica Davenport and Tammy Sutton-Brown in the post.
Another key is Shavonte Zellous' move into a possible starting role. The spot became available when Smith was traded.
All this adds up to Indiana once again having high expectations. Perhaps the most important element will be how close Catchings is to being fully healed.
''It's going to take time for Catch after such a tough injury late in the season, to get back into the flow,'' Dunn said.