Tamika Catchings' fragile left foot is not only supporting WNBA playoff hopes of the Indiana Fever. Upon that foot might also ride participation by Team USA at the 2008 Olympics.
The Fever (19-12) are home tonight against the Connecticut Sun, who are 17-14 following Tuesday's 65-64 loss at Washington.
With the 34-game schedule almost complete, the Fever and Sun inevitably will meet in next week's first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as seed Nos. 2 and 3. The Fever would secure the No. 2 seed -- and home-court advantage over No. 3 -- with a victory.
But no one in the organization wants to rush Catchings into action -- even if that means she misses the playoffs.
"We're certainly not going to do anything to jeopardize the long-term future of her health," Fever coach Brian Winters said Tuesday.
USA Basketball will want Catchings to play for the national team at the Americas Championships in Chile from Sept. 23-27. The winner qualifies for Beijing. Second through fourth place must go through an Olympic qualifying tournament in June 2008.
After that tournament, Catchings said, the national team is to train in Russia and play exhibitions against college teams.
Catchings wore an orthotic and carbon fiber plate in her shoe Monday for the first time. Otherwise, she wears a protective boot and maintains fitness through workouts in a swimming pool.
She has not practiced with the team since tearing her plantar fascia July 20.
Fever trainer Holly Heitzman said she is cautiously optimistic Catchings can return for the playoffs but didn't specify a timetable.
"With something like this, you can't get right back into it," Catchings said. "The tear is still there. It's just smaller."
Catchings conceded her minutes might be limited even if she does return for the playoffs.
The Fever have gone 3-8 after a 16-4 start that had them atop the league. In Catchings' absence, they have employed a three-guard lineup of Tan White, Tully Bevilaqua and Anna DeForge.
White, a candidate for the league's inaugural Sixth Woman of the Year award, has become the Fever's most prolific scorer since replacing Catchings in the starting lineup. She has averaged 15.5 points over the past six games.
Even with Catchings, the Fever have floundered against Connecticut. The Sun have won 15 of the past 18 meetings, going 3-0 against the Fever this year.
"If we come out and we beat them and show that we can actually play with them, it would mean a lot to this team," White said. "And just letting them know we're not going to bow down.
"With or without Catchings, we're capable of winning because we have a good team."
Sometimes, White said, the Fever play as if they have advanced five steps. Other times, she added, "it looks like we're back to zero."