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Insider Preview: Storm vs. Atlanta

HEAD-TO-HEAD
8-9 RECORD 8-9
W-1 STREAK L-1
3-2 LAST 5 3-2
70.2 PF 78.2
95.7 Off. Eff. 96.1
30.6 RPG 36.1
.463 Reb % .499
72.9 Pace 79.6
7.1 Exp. Wins 9.6

Storm vs. Atlanta
Wednesday, July 11, 12:00 p.m.
KeyArena
Radio: 1090 AM
Live Access: Available with subscription
Buy Tickets:
Promotion: Kids Day and Doppler's Birthday

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com


The past two seasons, the Atlanta Dream has peaked at the right time. The Dream hopes to do the same thing again in 2012 with a chance to reach the WNBA Finals for the third consecutive time. At the midway point of the season, Atlanta sits fourth in the East, a game below .500. However, that's the exact same record the Dream boasted this time a year ago. Atlanta went on a tear late in the season, winning seven of the last eight games on the schedule, and maintained that momentum into the postseason, knocking off a pair of higher-seeded teams to reach the Finals. That's the same path the Dream followed in 2010, though Atlanta started 13-4 that year before fading late in the regular season and picking back up in the playoffs.

There are a few reasons to believe the Dream could be in for a similar run after the Olympic Break. Atlanta will get back starting center Erika De Souza, an All-Star in 2009 who has been training for the Olympics with the Brazilian National Team. Without De Souza, the Dream's frontcourt has not been quite as powerful as in years past. Atlanta has played opponents even on the glass after pulling down an impressive 51.3 percent of all available rebounds (third in the WNBA) in 2011.

Atlanta has also played at times without star forward Angel McCoughtry, who did not travel with the team to Seattle after spraining her left ACL, according to Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times. McCoughtry has missed four games thus far, during which the Dream is 1-3. The absence of the league's leading scorer, averaging better than 22 points per game, leaves a major gap in the Atlanta offense.

Still, the Dream is two games ahead of the New York Liberty for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has proven the last two seasons that it doesn't need home-court advantage to advance deep into the playoffs. Beyond that, the Dream's 8-9 record might understate how well the team has played. Atlanta has outscored opponents by 2.0 points per game, which should ordinarily translate into at least one and possibly two more wins.

Among the eight wins the Dream does have are some impressive triumphs. Atlanta is one of just three teams (along with the Storm and Minnesota) to defeat San Antonio since the start of June, and also crushed Los Angeles by 33 points at home and knocked off the Indiana Fever. That led Storm Head Coach Brian Agler to declare, "Atlanta's as good as anybody in the league when they're playing well."

The Storm has certainly had its difficulty with the Dream. Though the Storm swept the 2010 WNBA Finals, all three games were decided on the final possession. Last season, Atlanta was the only team in the league to sweep the season series with the Storm, winning blowouts both at KeyArena and Philips Arena. The Dream's athleticism on the perimeter and power inside has proven a difficult combination for the Storm, taking Seattle out of its offense and creating easy scoring opportunities. The Storm committed 49 turnovers in the two games.

McCoughtry and De Souza were key parts of that gameplan, but Atlanta still has plenty of talent in the lineup. The Dream's frontcourt of Sancho Lyttle and Aneika Henry might be as athletic as any in the league. Lyttle, a two-time All-Star who played with the Storm's Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters in Spain for EuroLeague champs Ros Casares, is averaging a career-high 14.8 points to go with her 7.8 rebounds per game. Henry, who was briefly in training camp with the Storm in 2011, has found a home in Atlanta and has averaged 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in a starting role.

On the perimeter, the Dream relies on point guard Lindsey Harding, another former All-Star. A capable scorer and playmaker, Harding averages 11.2 points and 3.9 assists per game and initiates most of the Atlanta offense in McCoughtry's absence. McCoughtry's replacement in the starting lineup is rookie Tiffany Hayes, a UConn product who fell to the second round of the draft. In five starts, the talented Hayes is averaging 10.6 points per game, including a career-high 23 points in Saturday's win at Phoenix.

The Storm, of course, is dealing with its own injury issues. Sue Bird plans to play after returning to the lineup from a strained right hip flexor on Sunday, but Tina Thompson (left knee strain) is out and Ann Wauters (strained left Achilles) will be a game-time decision. The Dream may be able to do more than the Phoenix Mercury could on Sunday to take advantage of the Storm's lack of depth up front if Wauters is unable to go. That left Alysha Clark and Katie Smith to pick up backup minutes in the frontcourt behind Camille Little and Ewelina Kobryn, who extended her streak of double-figure scoring efforts to three in her first career start.

Besides being Kids Day and Doppler's Birthday, meaning the annual 12 noon tip time at KeyArena, special pregame activities on the plazas outside the Key and mascot madness, Wednesday's game has a chance to be meaningful because the Storm could get back to .500 with a win. When the team started 1-7, such a goal seemed far off, but the Storm has won seven of its last nine games to get within striking distance of the mark approaching the Olympic Break.

KEY MATCHUP
Defensive specialist Armintie Price was a key part of the Dream's success against the Storm last season. The athletic Price had four steals in the two games and shot 8-of-11 from the field. She's Atlanta's best perimeter defender and could match up with either Smith or Tanisha Wright. The Storm will want to keep Price on the perimeter and make her a jump shooter, which is the weakness of her game. Smith scored double figures in both matchups against the Dream last season, ranking second on the team in scoring, but has not been a major part of the offense recently. Smith has gone the last two games without a point while contributing at the defensive end.
LAST MEETING

The Storm simply never had it during a 92-63 loss to Atlanta at KeyArena last Aug. 13. Hot shooting, especially from Smith, helped the Storm stay close to the Dream for the first quarter and a half. Thereafter, it was all Atlanta. The Dream outscored the Storm 42-21 in the second half. The loss was just the second at home in the previous season in a half, and the first double-digit margin in regulation at KeyArena since the 2007 season.

Smith led the Storm with 15 points, at the time a season high. Iziane Castro Marques and McCoughtry (17 apiece) led five Atlanta players in double digits as the Dream shot 58.8 percent from the field.

INJURIES

Storm - Center Ann Wauters (strained left Achilles) is questionable. Forward Tina Thompson (left knee strain) is out.

Atlanta - Forward Angel McCoughtry (sprained left MCL) is out.

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