Atlanta Dream Playoff Preview

Atlanta Dream Playoff Media Guide

Game 1 Game Notes

The 2012 season has been one of ups and down for the Atlanta Dream, but the team finished the regular season strong, with hope that the continually-building momentum can lead to a third straight Eastern Conference Championship. The Dream, which returned all five members of its starting unit from last season, finished the regular season with a 19-15 record, and secured the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row.

The 2012 London Olympics played a big role in the Dream’s season, in part because of a modified schedule that included a gap of more than a month with no games – and an almost two-month gap with no home games – but primarily because it forced the team to play the pre-Olympics portion of its schedule without its starting center, Erika de Souza, who was training with the Brazilian national team.

With a lack of experienced post players on the roster, the Dream struggled to fill the void, and showed signs of inconsistency early on. Atlanta lost seven of its first 11 games, struggling in particular in close contests, with four of the seven losses coming by single digits, including a pair of two-point defeats.

However, even among the disappointments, there were signs that the Dream still had the potential to be a title contender once again this season. On June 15, the Los Angeles Sparks brought a 7-1 record into Philips Arena, but were no match for Atlanta. The Dream rolled to a 92-59 victory, with the 33-point margin of victory marking a new franchise high.

A three-game winning streak in late June pulled Atlanta back to .500 at 7-7, but the team then alternated wins and losses through the rest of the pre-Olympics schedule, unable to get over the hump each time it evened its record at .500. The squad entered the break with a 9-10 record, good for third in the Eastern Conference, but still trying to hit its stride.

After the season resumed – and after Angel McCoughtry earned a gold medal in London – the Dream picked up where it left off, splitting its first six games while continuing to hover around .500. But the tide turned on Aug. 27, when Fred Williams was promoted to head coach and general manager. After dropping its first game with Williams at the helm, the team won six of its next seven games in its best stretch of the season. Included in that stretch were back-to-back victories over Connecticut and Indiana – the two teams ahead of Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings. A loss that was meaningless in the standings in the season finale at Connecticut was the only thing that kept the Dream from matching its franchise record for victories in a regular season, as the team finished one shy of last year’s 20-14 mark.

McCoughtry once again proved to be among the game’s best players this season, becoming just the second player in WNBA history to lead the league in scoring average and steals in the same season, joining Sheryl Swoopes in 2000. McCoughtry averaged 21.4 points and 2.5 steals, and also ranked among the team leaders in rebounds, assists and blocks.

But it was far from a one-woman team. McCoughtry was just one of three different Dream players who earned WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors this season – the most from one team in the East this year. Sancho Lyttle was one of those three, and averaged a career-best 14.0 points while setting a new team single-season record for steals with 82. She also ranked sixth in the league in rebounding (7.6) and was among the team leaders in blocks (23) and assists (85).

Lindsey Harding was the third award winner and finished third on the team in scoring 12.3 and led the team and ranked eighth in the league in assists (4.5 per game). She often saved her best moments for the fourth quarter, and her veteran leadership was instrumental in keeping the Dream focused and moving forward.

Though she missed the first half of the season, de Souza’s value to the team was evident upon her return, as the team improved statistically in numerous categories. She averaged 11.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while providing a defensive presence in the paint. Armintie Price continued to do a lot of the little things to help the team win as well, leading the team in shooting percentage and offensive rebounds – stats not typically associated with guards.

A pair of rookies and a new addition to the bench also had a profound impact on the Dream. Rookie Tiffany Hayes started half of the team’s games and averaged nearly 12 points per game in her starts. Rookie Aneika Henry filled in admirably in de Souza’s absence and led the team in blocked shots this season. Cathrine Kraayeveld, meanwhile, filled the role of three-point specialist off the bench, setting a team single-season record for three-point field goal percentage (.402).

Though Atlanta is known as an up-tempo team that likes to push the pace, the team also showed it can excel defensively this season. The Dream led the league in steals (9.8 per game) and was second in turnover forced (17.6) and third in opponents field goal percentage (.415). The team also did well on the boards, ranking fifth in the league in rebound margin (+0.3). The team showed its explosiveness offensively as well, with a franchise record-tying three games of at least 100 points this season.

With the playoffs set to begin, Atlanta appears to be poised to make another postseason run. Though the team will not have home-court advantage, the Dream reached the finals as a No. 3 seed in 2011 and No. 4 seed in 2010, so optimism remains high.