Dream-Mystics Playoff Preview


How They Got Here
The Atlanta Dream (17-17) had a streaky regular season. The Dream started the season 10-1 before losing eight of its next nine to slip to 11-9. Atlanta then won three straight, lost four straight, won three more in a row and lost the last four to finish 17-17. In all, the Dream had four winning streaks of at least three games, and four losing streaks of at least four games.

The Washington Mystics (17-17) jumped to a quick 4-1 start, but then lost five straight. By Aug. 6 the team had slipped to a 9-13 record, but then won the next three, starting an 8-4 spurt to end the season with a 17-17 mark. The Mystics enter the playoffs riding a three-game winning streak.

Regular Season Series
Atlanta won the regular-season series, taking three of the five games. The Dream went 2-1 at home, and the teams split two games in Washington. Atlanta won the first three meetings, but Washington claimed the last two.

Angel McCoughtry was Atlanta’s leading scorer against the Mystics this year, averaging 19.6 points per game. Tiffany Hayes avearged 14.0 points in four games, including one start, while Erika de Souza added 12.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest. Atlanta shot 42.1 percent in the five games, but just 23.7 percent from 3-point range. Atlanta had a rebounding advantage of +4.0 per game, but committed eight more turnovers in the five contests.

Monique Currie and Ivory Latta were the only players to average double figures for Washington against Atlanta this year, averaging 13.6 and 13.4 points, respectively. Latta also had a team-best 26 assists in the five contests, while Crystal Langhorne was the leading rebounder at 7.2 per game while adding 9.6 points. The Mystics shot just 39.7 percent from the field against the Dream, including just 26.3 percent from 3-point range. The Mystics forced 17.6 turnovers per game, though.

Regular Season Team Stats
Both teams finished in the middle of the pack in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Offensively, Atlanta was sixth (76.9 ppg) and Washington seventh (75.5 ppg), and the teams tied for sixth defensively (75.4 ppg).

Atlanta shot the ball slightly better from the field (42.3 percent - 4th) than Washington (41.3 percent - 7th), although the Mystics were second from 3-point range (34.7) and Atlanta was 12th (27.5). The teams were similar on defensive field goal percentage, with Washington sixth (41.3) and Atlanta seventh (42.0).

The Mystics were the better rebounding team, with a margin of +1.06 (fourth in the league) while Atlanta was at -0.03 (seventh), but the Dream fared better in turnover differential at +1.88 (third in the league) vs. Washington’s -0.97 (ninth).

Dream 2013 Season Review
The 2013 regular season was one of highs and lows for the Atlanta Dream, but in the end, the team earned a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season, as well as home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time in the team’s history. For a team which was picked to miss the playoffs entirely by many pundits prior to the season’s start, it would most certainly be deemed a success.

The Dream entered the season with four returning starters plus top reserve Tiffany Hayes, but there was one glaring question mark at point guard. The departure of Lindsey Harding appeared to be the primary reason the experts were not high on Atlanta entering the season, but the off-season acquisitions of Jasmine Thomas from Washington and Alex Bentley via the draft had the Dream believing there would be little or no drop-off at the point guard spot.

Once the season began, it quickly became clear that the Dream had been underrated, as the team won its first four games. Following its first loss, six more wins followed, and Atlanta was the talk of the WNBA with a league-best 10-1 record. The Dream became one of just six teams to win at least 10 of its first 11 games, and was especially potent at Philips Arena, winning seven times during that stretch – all by at least nine points.

But things quickly took a turn for the worse when the calendar turned to July. At the same time the schedule increased in difficulty, the team’s good fortune in the health department dissolved. On July 9 – the same day the team’s six-game winning streak came to an end in Minnesota – Hayes had surgery on her left knee, and Sancho Lyttle broke her left foot vs. the Lynx. Suddenly, the team was without two of its top four scorers.

It didn’t help that starting with that July 9 game, six of the next seven contests were on the road, including road games against all four eventual playoff teams from the West. And when Angel McCoughtry was dinged up as well, missing a game in Seattle due to an Achilles strain, the result was a stretch that saw the team lose eight of its next nine games to fall to 11-9.

Things appeared to be back on track when the Dream bounced back to win three games in five days from Aug. 16-20, including an impressive 13-point win over Minnesota. But then the ups and downs continued, as injuries to Hayes and Armintie Herrington coincided with a four-game losing streak, followed by yet another three-game winning streak.

Ultimately, the team cruised into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed out of the East, and a host of impressive individual accomplishments.

Chief among them was Angel McCoughtry winning her second consecutive scoring title, averaging 21.5 points per game. McCoughtry, who during the season became the third-youngest player in league history to reach 3,000 career points, narrowly missed claiming the steals title for a second year in a row as well, finishing second by averaging 2.7 thefts per game. In addition, McCoughtry, who also was named a starter on the East squad for the All-Star game, saw her assists rise dramatically, as she finished sixth in the league with a career-best average of 4.4 per game.

Erika de Souza also had an All-Star season for the Dream, leading the WNBA in double-doubles with 18. She finished third in the league in rebounding (9.9), fifth in field goal percentage (.553), sixth in blocks (1.8) and 12th in steals (1.3). She set team single-season records for double-doubles, rebounds and blocks, and at one point, de Souza had a team-record streak of six consecutive double-doubles.

Despite the injury to Hayes that cost her 11 games this season, she still managed to reach double-figures 12 times, including 10 times when coming off the bench, while averaging 11.3 points to garner consideration for Sixth Woman of the Year. Perhaps no statistic better illustrated her value to the team, however, than the fact that Atlanta went 15-8 in games in which she played, and was just 2-9 in the 11 games she missed.

The point guard duo of Thomas and Bentley exceeded expectations, with the duo combining to average 16.8 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals. Bentley proved to be perhaps the steal of the draft, as the second-round pick was considered a favorite for All-Rookie team honors after averaging 8.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steals, and set a new WNBA record by making 10 consecutive 3-pointers at one point.

Armintie Herrington was a defensive stopper as usual for the Dream, setting a personal best with 65 steals in 28 games (2.3 spg), which ranked fourth in the league. Le’Coe Willingham provided veteran leadership and filled in admirably for Lyttle during her absence from the lineup. Lyttle, who also missed six games earlier in June while leading the Spanish National Team to the gold at EuroBasket Women 2013, was able to play in just six games during the regular season.

The Dream will once again rely on causing havoc defensively as it heads into the playoffs. Atlanta led the league in steals, averaging a team-record 10.2 per game, and also topped the WNBA in turnovers forced (17.0). The Dream’s defense allowed just 75.4 points this season, setting a new team mark in that category as well.

With the playoffs set to begin, Atlanta appears poised to make another postseason run. With home-court advantage in a playoff round for the first time, and a bevy of veterans that have either been part of the Dream’s back-to-back Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, or have been part of other WNBA Championship teams, optimism is high.