Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever are navigating one of the toughest WNBA starts in recent history

For as much as Caitlin Clark has brought attention to the WNBA — and she’s certainly had great success doing that so far — she has struggled to bring wins to the Fever. Friday’s win over the Sparks, which included some dagger 3-pointers from Clark, was the first victory of the season for Indiana.

After playing the Sparks, Indiana will face the Aces on Saturday in Las Vegas for a back-to-back. It will also be the third road game in four days with the Fever losing to the Storm in Seattle on Wednesday.

All that comes after the Fever spent the first four games effectively alternating matchups against the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun, two of the three best teams by record last season.

To call it a gauntlet of a schedule would be doing it a disservice. In fact, the more apt term might be unprecedented. As Rebecca Lobo of ESPN pointed out, the open to the season for the Fever, which will feature 11 games in 20 days total, is only the second time that’s occurred in nearly two decades.

It wasn’t hard to see this coming for the Fever once the schedule was released. But projecting it and seeing it play out are two different things.

According to Massey Ratings, heading into Friday’s game in Los Angeles, the Fever have had the second-toughest strength of schedule this season. Only Chicago, who has played three games so far against top-four teams from last season, ranks ahead of them.

The three road games the Fever have played this year are tied for the most of any team so far. By the end of Saturday night following their back-to-back, they’ll sit alone at the top of that list. That’s about as grueling a start as there could be, charter planes or not.

The effects of that have been aplenty for the Fever, but none more notable than the fact they have still yet to practice since the season started. It’s a fact Indiana head coach Christie Sides has mentioned a handful of times this season.

Prior to Monday’s game against the Sun, Sides was asked if she knew when the next, or first, practice would come. Her focus, however, was on finally giving the players a rest.

“I’m looking forward to giving the players a day off next Sunday,” Sides said. “I’ve got this young group who are fighting their a–es off. They are. They’re learning. I love this group of people. It started last year and they are just growing together. It’s a tough, tough situation for them but I appreciate their competitiveness and their ability to come in and stay positive. That’s hard to do sometimes.”

It would be a bit naive not to think this schedule was deliberate by the WNBA. Of the five road games the Fever will have had after the upcoming weekend, four of them will have come against the top three teams in the league last season and in Los Angeles, arguably the league’s biggest market.

Caitlin Clark draws attention and eyes to the game. And if you were drawing up an ideal start to the season to maximize the amount of people she’s going to draw, it would include New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, all places Clark and the Fever will have played in the first seven games.

Eventually, Indiana will get a long, lengthy break. After this opening 11-game stretch, which concludes on Sunday, June 2, in New York, the Fever will be off until Friday, June 7. At that point, the schedule looks far more “normal,” with multiple days between games, allowing for practice time and off days.

But getting to that point will require the franchise to navigate one of the most brutal schedules in recent league history.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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