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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

Tamika Catchings has one goal left in her career - winning a WNBA title.



In pursuit of that goal, she could also claim her first MVP award.



The 32-year-old forward has finished in the top five in the MVP balloting eight times. She's a four-time defensive player of the year who has led the Fever to the playoffs seven straight years, the Eastern Conference Finals three times and the WNBA Finals once. She's a two-time Olympic gold medalist and was a collegiate national champion at Tennessee.



Catchings blames herself for not yet having a WNBA ring, and she carries that burden into Thursday's first-round opener against the New York Liberty.



''Being the leader for this team and being at the forefront, everybody looks to my direction,'' she said. ''Maybe there's something else I need to be doing.''



Catchings doesn't have much room for improvement. She averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season while ranking in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, free-throw percentage and steals. Indiana finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, giving the Fever homecourt advantage in at least the first two rounds of the playoffs and Catchings perhaps her best shot at reaching the top.



''The potential that we have, the players that we have - we have all the pieces, it's just a matter of putting it all together,'' she said.



While Catchings avoids newspapers and Web sites so she can stay focused on team business, All-Star Fever guard Katie Douglas has no problem touting her teammate as a worthy MVP.



''I think it would be a great credential,'' Douglas said. ''I know she says she'd rather win a championship, and that's great, but there's so many things that she does show up on a stat sheet, and then there's so many intangibles.''



After Catchings tied a career high with 32 points in a win over the Liberty on Aug. 13, Fever coach Lin Dunn started an unofficial campaign.



''Catch is a multidimensional player,'' Dunn said that night. ''I think sometimes she's not given enough credit for all the different things she can do. She gets assists, she gets steals, she gets rebounds, she scores and she defends like nobody else in the league. It's unfortunate that so much emphasis is put on `Who's the leading scorer?'''



Catchings has picked up another advocate along the way - Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird.



''The one thing I notice about her that you don't find in very many basketball players, men or women, is she never gives up on a play,'' he said. ''She's always digging, always going after it, always trying to get her hands on the ball.''



Bird, who coached the Indiana Pacers, appreciates Catchings' consistency and versatility. The three-time NBA MVP and three-time world champion for the Boston Celtics said Catchings' tenacity reminds him of himself.



''She's so consistent, and you know what you'll get out of her every day,'' he said. ''You take some players in any league and they'll have one really good game out of three, but Tamika has always been steady and has always been there every time, and people take that for granted. But coaches love that. Coaches love to know who they can depend on night after night, and she's definitely one of those players.''



Catchings appreciated the support but made it clear that she's focused on the task ahead.



''I'm really honored that a lot of people have gone to bat for me and want to see me win it,'' she said. ''I want to focus on playing and doing what it takes to help this team win,'' she said.



Handling the Liberty and their MVP candidate, Cappie Pondexter, will be a challenge. Pondexter finished sixth in the league with 17.4 points per game this season. The guard averaged 19 points and four assists in four regular-season games against the Fever.



''She's an amazing player,'' Catchings said. ''She's the kind of player that I would love to play with someday. You know what she's capable of doing.''



Catchings said no player or team can shut Pondexter down.



"You can't leave it to one person to guard her the whole game,'' she said. ''It's definitely a team effort. You just have to find a way to slow her down and keep the ball out of her hands.''



Perhaps a bigger challenge for the Fever will be keeping New York off the boards. The Liberty outrebounded the Fever 30-19 in their last meeting, an 83-75 win on Sept. 9. New York had 11 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points that night.



''We have to rebound,'' Catchings said. ''We just have to a better job of keeping people off the boards, especially the offensive boards.''



Bird thinks the Fever can do it.



''I think this is the year,'' he said. ''I think Tamika's going to lead them all the way.''



--



Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap



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