2017 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews

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Two congratulatory items first, before going into Sancho Watch.

Congrats to Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen for becoming the WNBA's all-time leader in wins! Also, from this weekend, congrats to Phoenix's Diana Taurasi for surpassing Tina Thompson to become the WNBA's all-time leader in scoring!

So, Sancho has been doing her thing over in the pond, and by winning the first two games in their pool, Spain qualified early for the Eurobasket Women 2017 quarterfinals. Even before Spain's courtesy loss this afternoon to the host Czech Republic, Lyttle was leading the tourney in per-game efficiency and ranked second in rebounds. Through 3 games, she is averaging 16.7 PPG (8th in FIBA), 10.7 RPG (4th in FIBA), and 2.3 SPG (7th in FIBA), shooting 58.1% from the floor and 82.4% from the free throw line.

More importantly to Dream fans, she's still healthy! By skipping the round of 12, the first round of knockout play, Sancho and Spain get to rest and practice until Thursday's quarterfinal, awaiting tomorrow's winner between Latvia and Serbia.


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Did the Hawks inadvertently lob a monkey wrench into a significant chunk of the Atlanta Dream's flagging attendance? We're about to find out.

The Dream (5-5) return home from their weeks-long road trip clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot, with only the blazing-hot Connecticut Sun nipping at their heels. It's way too early for Must-Win games, but tonight's contest at McCamish Pavilion against the visiting Chicago Sky (7:30 PM Eastern, online via ESPN3, 10 PM Eastern tape delay on The U Too in CHI) certainly falls into the Oughta-Win category.

Chicago checks into this affair with a 2-9 record. One half of their victory tally came in this building, a disappointing home opener for the Dream. Atlanta dropped a 75-71 game back in May, just two nights after scraping the Sky 91-83 in Second City.

The other half of Coach Amber Stocks' team's win total came two weeks ago on the road, but it was against winless San Antonio (0-12), and it required OT and a comeback from eight points down in the fourth quarter.

Having rested since last Thursday's loss in Indy, Atlanta should be able to keep the Sky at arm's length if the frontcourt puts up a better effort against "Big Mama Stef" Dolson (23 points, 8-for-10 2FGs, 2-for-3 3FGs, 5 blocks @ ATL on May 21), and finds some decent bench scoring. Chicago starters Dolson, Jessica Breland, Cappie Pondexter (6.7 APG, 2nd in WNBA) and Tamera Young are giving it everything they've got, but on most nights it's not enough when the Sky are getting very little from their reserves.

In Sunday's 91-79 home loss to Indiana, five Chicago backups totaled 8 points (incl. 2-for-5 FGs). All five Sky starters scored in double figures, but logged 30+ minutes and were pooped by the time sixth woman Tiff Mitchell and the Fever turned the tide midway through the third quarter.

Six Dream reserves managed just 11 points in the loss at Indiana last week, but at least they bothered to get some shots up (combined 3-for-19 FGs). Jordan Hooper has hit one three-pointer in her three games in a Dream uni, easing the perimeter pressure a smidgen for Coach Michael Cooper's club. As for Chicago, Stocks needs much more out of Kahleah Copper, Imani Boyette, and Cheyenne Parker to start turning all these Ls into Ws.

Atlanta remains without Sancho Lyttle (Spain), but Chicago Hope might be buoyed by the return of star guard Courtney Vandersloot (Hungary), whose Eurobasket Women's team bowed out from tourney play on Tuesday.  Lyttle's pending return is going to push one of these backups to the waiver wire, so they all need to step up and make positive impacts tonight.

(side note for those watching online: former Hawks draft pick Stephen Bardo is the Sky's color analyst for this game.)

Let's Go Dream!


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Tough loss! but if you're an Atlanta sports fan you know the drill by now. What should happen =/= what does happen. It's on tape delay on Fox Sports Southeast right now for those that can stomach it.

Still, a couple good silver linings. Brittney Sykes was phenomenal finding her own offense, and although she struggled in a backup point role (where have you gone, Brianna Kiesel?), it's encouraging to see her figure it out while providing some steady buckets along the way.

Also, when it comes to Hawks (and EX-Hawks), we had the 3 D's representing. Dennis... Delaney... and Dwight! Mr. Howard showed up decked out in Hornets purple and had a sound ovation from the sparse crowd.


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Tag-teaming with Alba Torrens, Sancho Lyttle and Team Spain handled their business versus Emma Meesseman and Belgium in the Eurobasket Women semifinals. Today's final in Prague (2:30 PM Eastern) will have Spain going up against our old friend, former Dream point guard Celine Dumerc, and France. Good luck, Sancho! Stay healthy!


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Congratulations, Sancho!

The Dream are already clearing some space for your triumphant return!


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The champs are back in town! The Los Angeles Sparks have returned and looking to exact revenge on the Atlanta Dream (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Spectrum SportsNet in LA, NBATV elsewhere). Eurobasket champion Sancho Lyttle ought to be back and suiting up for the Dream at McCamish Pavilion. The one burning question is, will anybody else bother to show up?

The Dream (5-6) have played just four home games to date, two-to-five fewer than any other WNBA outfit. Their 4,300 attendee average ranks 11th out of 12 teams through Tuesday’s games, and it’s about a 30% drop thus far from the tickets sold through the end of 2016, when Atlanta played with Angel McCoughtry at Philips Arena.

The Dream were on the road for the first few months of June, to be fair. But one key WNBA fan demographic hardly made a blip in attendance when the team celebrated Pride Month last Friday, when the Dream dropped their homecoming game to Chicago 82-78. This, despite its starting point guard’s noteworthy activism and the Georgia Tech campus arena situated less than a 1-mile stroll from the intersection of 10th and Piedmont, Atlanta’s epicenter of LGBT entertainment.

Will things get worse drawing fans to/from Midtown? They could, especially if this team continues to resemble The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight when they do play.

Atlanta ranks dead-last with a 22.5 3FG% (winless San Antonio’s 30.0 3FG% ranks 11th out of 12 teams). That would blow the 1998 Sacramento Monarchs’ record for futility (26.0 3FG%) out of the water. That’s despite Tiffany Hayes holding up her end with a career-high 42.9 3FG%. Without Hayes and newcomer Jordan Hooper (4-for-9 3FGs for ATL), Atlanta’s all-time ugly perimeter shooting would look even uglier.

They’re also currently dead-last with a 71.8 FT% (Connecticut’s 72.9 FT% ranks 11th). Only two WNBA squads in the past five seasons (Washington’s 71.9 FT% in 2012, Connecticut’s 71.2 FT% in 2016) have shot free throws this poorly. Leading scorers Hayes, Layshia Clarendon, Bria Holmes, and Damiris Dantas are above the team average, but the rest of the roster have been dragging the Dream (way) down.

They’re even below average when shooting twos (45.7 2FG%, tied for 9th in WNBA). Despite putting up a team-high 20-and-10 in last week’s loss to Chicago, on the season, purported center Elizabeth Williams is hitting shots inside the arc (44.0 2FG%) barely better than guards Clarendon (43.5 2FG%) and Hayes (43.0 2FG%).

Despite severely curtailing turnovers in the past two seasons (league-best 15.1 TO%), the epic poor shooting and a regression in offensive rebounding contribute to an offensive rating (93.9) that ranks 10th in the 12-team league, barely in front of Chicago (93.4) and San Antonio (92.6).

Never mind the fickle, casual, on-the-fence sports fan, even dedicated WNBA fans aren’t shelling out the dollars for teams that look to be poorly developed and fundamentally flawed, especially when the problems have been hallmarks of the franchise’s 10-year history.

The Dream’s saving grace to this point remains their dedication to on-ball defense, particularly around the perimeter (28.0 opponent 3FG%).  Atlanta’s marks for defensive rating and opponent TO% ranks a stout 3rd in both categories. But with a pro hoops market increasingly geared toward exciting offensive flow, there is no customer appetite for Grit-and-Grind in the ATL. The former All-Star player returning to the team, Lyttle, is a band-aid for Atlanta’s woeful offense, but is by no means a cure.

Dream coach Michael Cooper has tried to trim the fat a bit, bidding adieu to Rachel Hollivay (no points in a 7-minute start vs. CHI last week) and the futile Brianna Kiesel by placing both on waivers. Coach Coop picked up Darxia Morris, who played well in the preseason, to back up Clarendon at the point in lieu of Kiesel.

But Cooper may have also found a ballhandling option in rookie Brittney Sykes (8-for-15 FGs and 8 rebounds off the bench vs. CHI). The first-round pick brought the ball up the floor capably in the fourth quarter, helping make a certain defeat interesting in the closing minutes. In looking for her own shot off drives first and last, Sykes seemingly does Matee Ajavon better than Matee Ajavon. Another strong effort from Sykes today would help take some of Alana Beard’s defensive pressure off of Clarendon and Hayes.

The Dream raised their record to 3-1 on the season with a pleasantly surprising 75-73 home win over the Sparks back on May 27. The Sparks were missing guard Odyssey Sims in that game, and since that loss L.A., now with Sims in tow, have won eight of their last nine contests, including three straight games on the road.

Los Angeles contained double-double dynamo Jonquel Jones and the improving Alyssa Thomas in an 87-79 win in Connecticut on Tuesday. Coach Brian Agler’s club committed just nine player turnovers for the game while forcing seven out of Thomas alone. Reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike (20.4 PPG and 59.7 FG%, each 3rd in WNBA) has returned to award-winning form, after she and frontcourt mate Candace Parker (2.1 BPG, 2nd in WNBA) turned in underwhelming efforts in Atlanta last month.

A late scramble by Chelsea Gray (48.4 3FG%, 3rd in WNBA; 4th in O-Rating among WNBA starters), arguably one-and-two with Skylar Diggins-Smith as the top guards in the league right now, was not enough to catch up with the Dream in May. Sims, Jantel Lavender, and Riquna Williams will try to produce enough offense to overwhelm Atlanta’s anemic bench and allow Gray and the starters some quality rest.

Having played just one game over the previous 14 days should be beneficial for a Dream squad that has just one road game (in Dallas) over its next five games. But those matches will be coming in rapid succession; nine games over the course of 20 calendar days, beginning tonight and ending at the All-Star Break.

The good news is there are no teams between the 4-seed and 10-seed in the WNBA standings that are more than two games above the .500 mark, Atlanta currently sitting just 1.5 games out of the coveted 4-seed position, despite their flaws. Still, getting back in the win column today won’t be easy, as the champion Sparks aren’t about to be caught off-guard again.

Let’s Go Dream!


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Another uphill drag awaits the Atlanta Dream today at McCamish Pavilion. To shed their losing skid, they’ll have to find their way around Tina Charles and the New York Liberty (6:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, MSG Network in NYC).

Coach Bill Lambeer’s squad squashed Atlanta’s offense and trounced the Dream 76-61 in Madison Square Garden back on June 7, giving hope to Libs fans that the team was preparing to right the ship and make a charge up to the top of the standings. Alas, despite sitting in 4th in the WNBA playoff standings, New York (7-6) dropped three of their last four contests, including twice to Charles’ former team, the Connecticut Sun. Last Sunday, the Liberty fell short after climbing their way out of a 21-point second-half hole at home.

The Liberty come into Atlanta after making host Washington look like a defensive juggernaut on Thursday, scoring just 12 second-quarter points and 7 in the third quarter as the Mystics rolled to a 67-54 victory. New York has their work cut out if they have designs on releasing Washington’s grip on the Eastern Conference.

In addition to Tina (now 10th all-time in WNBA career rebounds, 3-for-15 FGs vs. WAS) shaking off her brief funk, using her size and quickness to her advantage against Sancho Lyttle and Elizabeth Williams, New York would find it sweet if they get swing player Sugar Rodgers (back injury vs. CON last Sunday, day-to-day) back in the lineup. Rookie Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe was granted her first WNBA start on Thursday but was ineffective. Laimbeer needs much more production than he’s getting out of bench players Rebecca Allen and Bria Hartley.

Atlanta (WNBA-low 47.6 TS%) cannot afford extended cold stretches against New York, the best defensive rebounding team in the league (77.1 D-Reb%). Teams have been getting back on D and forcing the Dream to make-do in a halfcourt offense, so Layshia Clarendon has to spark the Dream offense by putting Epiphanny Prince on her heels and creating buckets (and drawing fouls, and making free throws) in transition.

Any chance at a victory today against New York depends on a big day from Clarendon, who hasn’t had one in awhile. The starting point guard did not exceed double-digits in scoring in any of seven games during the month of June. After going 2-for-5 from the field (no free throw attempts) in Friday night’s 85-76 loss to Los Angeles, Layshia’s lackadaisical month concluded by shooting 19-for-61 from the field, including 2-for-17 from deep, and 6-for-8 for the entire month on free throws after going 7-for-7 versus San Antonio on May 31.

Layshia has cut down on the turnovers recently (last 3 games: 19 assists, 3 TOs), a partial product of Michael Cooper putting the ballhandling duties more in rookie Brittney Sykes’ and wayfaring Darxia Morris’ hands. But Coach Coop and the Dream need Clarendon to be more than a mere distributor if Atlanta (5-7) intends to turn things around anytime soon.

Let’s Go Dream!


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The Dallas Wings’ Allisha Gray has been running away with the WNBA Rookie of the Year award thus far. But she’s got a new challenger over her shoulder. Brittney Sykes is in the building with the Atlanta Dream for the matchup with the Wings tonight (8:00 PM Eastern, WNBA League Pass only in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest Dallas Plus in DFW), making her footsteps known.

Can we all just admit that Michael Cooper knows what he’s doing at draft time? He led the deal in 2016 to acquire Elizabeth Williams, 2016’s Most Improved Player, from Connecticut, and selected Bria Holmes, at the time considered a reach, but the rookie who heated up just in time to secure a playoff spot?

Now it appears Coach Coop is shooting 3-for-3 with first-rounder Sykes, again a consensus reach when Atlanta picked her 7th overall. Brittney is up to an 8.0 PPG scoring average, behind only Gray’s 12.1 PPG, despite 11 fewer minutes per game than Dallas’ fourth-overall pick, and not starting until a couple games ago. On a per-40 basis, Sykes presently leads all rookies with 19.7 points.

The per-game scoring spread would be even narrower if Sykes wasn’t shooting free throws at an atrocious 48.5% clip, a value that must improve for a player so dependent on drives for offensive production.

The 5-foot-9, 146-pound Dreamette also sits right behind the 6-foot Gray with 2.5 defensive rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. Bearing a strong upper frame, Sykes is confident in her ability to mix it up inside. Her insertion into the starting lineup alongside Tiffany Hayes and Layshia Clarendon helps Atlanta (6-7) become more formidable as a defensive backcourt.

Sykes’ career-highs of 19 points and nine boards were essential for Atlanta to race to a stunning 40-20 lead during the opening half on Sunday, fending off the New York Liberty’s late charge for the 81-72 victory. Off the bench, Holmes and Damiris Dantas contributed adequately to a Dream offense which surpassed 80 points in regulation for the first time since May 19, a span of 11 games. Dantas nailed her first three shots, all three-pointers, while Holmes joined starters Clarendon and Hayes (combined 16-for-19 FTs) to alleviate the Dream’s woes at the charity stripe.

Perpetually beleaguered Wings coach Fred Williams has been missing Aerial Powers (hip) and Courtney Paris (meniscus tear) for most of the season due to injuries, and has had to field an active roster of ten players, half of whom consist of rookies the Wings drafted in April.

Third-overall pick Evelyn Akhator and second-rounder Breanna Lewis are backup centers, while tenth-pick Kaela Davis spells Gray and third-rounder Saniya Chong gets a modicum of time behind surefire 2017 All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith (league-high 32.9 minutes/game).

Fortunately for Coach Freddy, Gray has been the most WNBA-ready rookie out of the box, and Diggins-Smith has come into this season ready to deal for Big D. Skylar has averaged 17.3 PPG, in a return to the scoring prowess of her Tulsa years pre-ACL surgery, while shooting a career-best 44.2% from the field. Further, her career-best 32.4 assist percentage ranks behind only Sue Bird (41.0 percent of baskets assisted) and Clarendon (36.7 percent) in the league.

Atlanta’s perimeter defenders must be ready to contest shots and switch on pick-and-rolls without fouling. The Wings’ offensive punch is predicated upon their insane ability to draw shooting fouls and get to the free throw line. Dallas has piled up a WNBA-high 26.6 free throw attempts per game. That rivals the all-time WNBA record 26.7 per-game freebies the Dream were granted in 2016.

All those free throws are of little use whenever Dallas displays poor defense (109.7 D-Rating, next-to-worst in WNBA; WNBA-worst 86.1 opponent PPG), and/or when they’re shooting poorly from the floor. This was the case when the Wings got clipped at home by Seattle on Saturday, 89-69, ending Dallas’ four-game winning streak.

Dallas got 12 more free throw attempts than their visitors, even making 14 more of them, but shot just 1-for-17 on threes. The Storm out-assisted Dallas 29-13, and despite Glory Johnson’s rebounding efforts (18 points, 5 O-Rebs), Seattle’s Breanna Stewart (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Crsytal Langhorne (19-and-7) were mercilessly dipping the Wings’ depleted front line in ranch.

With Dallas already starting the back half of their schedule, Coach Williams sorely needs at least a modest finish to the season. The Wings’ loss in Atlanta around this time last year initiated a 2-13 slide out of playoff contention. Dallas (8-9) cannot afford to go from sizzle to fizzle if they have designs on a postseason run.

If Powers and Paris are out again today at Arlington’s College Park Center, look for Freddy to turn to his rookies “Shaq-ator” and Lewis, who rested through most of Saturday’s loss. In any case, this is a prime opportunity for Atlanta to balance the floor with buckets and putbacks by Elizabeth Williams (5 O-Rebs vs. NYL on Sunday) and Sancho Lyttle (WNBA-high 2.1 SPG; 3 steals away from 9th all-time). A rested Jordan Hooper should be able to join Dantas and contribute both inside and outside to help overwhelm the Wings.

With just one game separating the 10th-seeded Dream and 4th-seeded Phoenix (7-6) in the standings, today’s game is pivotal for Atlanta to reverse course. The Dream and Wings meet again on Sunday afternoon, back in Midtown Atlanta. While Dallas gets to rest, the Dream have an intervening game, hosting the Fever on Friday. With struggling defensive teams like Indiana, Dallas, San Antonio and Seattle on the docket, the moment is ripe for Atlanta to formally fix what ails them offensively.


Let’s Go Dream!


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Having blown home games the last two Fridays in a row, perhaps the third time's the charm for the Atlanta Dream? Hopefully it'll be the Dream giving Indiana the Fever (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL, Fox Sports Indiana) all through the night.

I erred in saying Wednesday's game in Dallas was not on locally, as Fox Sports South had it simulcast. But it turned out I was doing a lot of folks a favor. Atlanta's defense betrayed them by allowing the Wings 31 first-quarter points. That, and a rough night from the floor for Tiffany Hayes, was enough for the Wings to fend off a late Dream charge and prevail 94-84.

After seeming to shake off the cobwebs verus New York, Layshia Clarendon returned to her shell offensively (0-for-3 FGs, 8 assists but 5 TOs in just 17 minutes) in Texas. Hayes and Clarendon's struggles came at the worst possible time for Atlanta (6-8) against the firepower backcourt of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Allisha Gray (combined 41 points).

As a scorer, Layshia was also a virtual no-show in Indiana on June 15 (8 assists, no TOs, but 4-for-11 FGs) as her counterpart, former Dream guard Erica Wheeler (20 points, 9-for-16 FGs, 7 assists and 4 TOs) had a field day in the Fieldhouse. Fatigue and bench support played a bigger hand in the 85-74 loss, but Atlanta needs more balance and consistency from their lead guard if they intend to beat middle-tier teams like Indiana (7-8) and Dallas.

Losing Sancho Lyttle early in the Dallas game after she caught a pork chop from Courtney Paris in the schnoz wasn't encouraging, either. Lyttle's out for tonight's game but is listed as probable for Sunday's payback match with the Wings at home.

Getting over the 80-point hump for the second-straight game, however, necessitated some offensive punch from the Dream reserves. Jordan Hooper provided, if not much else, enough threes (3-for-5 3FGs) to help keep Atlanta in the running late. Damiris Dantas also stepped up her rebounding (nine boards, seven defensive) in Lyttle's absence before fouling out. with under five minutes to play.

One of the other reserves was Meighan Simmons, who got waived yesterday evening after getting a couple uneventful minutes in Dallas. With Simmons and Darxia Morris being ineffective, coach Michael Cooper's club will be snooping around in search of a guard that can produce in short stints without giving up too much on the defensive end. WNBA teams are actively clearing roster spots to improve flexibility in advance of the WNBA Trade Deadline at the close of this month (July 31).

Atlanta needs Dantas and Hooper, as well as Bria Holmes (team-high 17 points plus 4 assists @ IND on June 15), to continue producing buckets while making stops to take the pressure off of Elizabeth Williams (6 blocks, but minus-25 vs. DAL) in Sancho's absence. Even without Lyttle, back in June, Atlanta did hold coach Pokey Chatman's club to five O-Rebs and coaxed the Fever into more player turnovers (13) than assists (11).

Besides dealing with a team that has rested for six days, the Dream will have their shorthanded frontline tested by the savvy Candice Dupree (14-and-11 vs. CON last Saturday) and the bruising Erlana Larkins.

Yet Indy is not a good defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot a WNBA-high 48.7 FG%, (worst mark in WNBA history if it stays here) including 38.0% from three-point land (worst by any team since 2012). Those figures don't get much better when Indiana puts their show on the road (opponents 49.4 FG%). part of the reason the Fever are 2-5 away from home.

Williams lacks the versatility of Connecticut's Jonquel Jones (29 points, 9-for-11 2FGs, 2-for-2 3FGs, 15 rebounds @ IND last Saturday), but she can create enough havoc if she runs the full floor to put Larkins (fouled out in 12 minutes on Saturday) in quick foul trouble and get Indy on the ropes.

Let's Go Dream!


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Is Jordan Hooper ready to tear it up? Is she an all star, or at least one for the future? Don't know about centers but I hope she can dominate with her size.

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23 minutes ago, Dnice said:

Is Jordan Hooper ready to tear it up? Is she an all star, or at least one for the future? Don't know about centers but I hope she can dominate with her size.

In her fourth season, Jordan's a potential steady role player, but she hasn't shown much more dimension to her game aside from the ability to hit threes. Of course, threes being our Achilles' heel, she should have a role here for as long as she likes. But to become a starter she'll have to rebound, pass, and defend better.


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After a month-long fan balloting process, WNBA All-Star starters will be announced on Tuesday. For at least a couple of players at this afternoon's meeting between the Atlanta Dream and the Dallas Wings (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast in ATL), they've got some work to do to ensure they get picked among the reserves.

Based on the early returns announced back on June 29, it's looking good for Tiffany Hayes' chances to hear her name called a couple days from now. The top-scoring guard in the Eastern Conference (career-highs of 16.5 PPG, 39.6 3FG%, 82.5 FT%), Hayes has not only the positive storyline of keeping an Angel McCoughtry-less Dream team (7-8) in playoff contention, but also legions of committed UConn hoops fans ensuring their top WNBA performers don't get snubbed.

The WNBA balloting process allowed voters to pick up to ten players per day, regardless of position, the webpage-based ballot listing all players only alphabetically by surname. With hardly anyone voting for East guards, Hayes led the pack with one-fourth the votes of West backcourt leaders. She would have finished ninth if the East and West guards were combined.

Inexplicably, Hayes ranked first in the East just ahead of another Tiffany, Indiana Fever backup guard Tiffany Mitchell (10.8 PPG, 36.7 FG%) My hunch? Phoenix fans errantly thought they were voting for the more deserving Leilani Mitchell. Maybe a few fans thought they were voting for Hayes and forgot her last name.

The second-leading scorer in the West, the Wings' Skylar Diggins-Smith (17.5 PPG) is probably going to have to settle for the coaches' vote, which gets revealed one week after Tuesday's starters announcement. Drake acolytes and male fans who liked her single have trailed off, and the lack of regional attention for the lowest-attended team in the league (under 4,000 fans per game, neck-and-neck with Atlanta) hasn't helped matters. Even with over 7,000 votes more than Hayes, Skylar finds herself in the West behind two longtime WNBA stalwarts Seattle's Sue Bird and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi.

Diggins-Smith should really be a lock to make it among the West reserve guards. But she'll have to continue carrying Dallas (9-9) to victory, lest WNBA coaches try to shoehorn guards from Minnesota and Los Angeles ahead of her. Skylar made her case last Wednesday with a team-high 21 points (8-for-8 FTs) and 7 assists to help the wings hold off visiting Atlanta 94-84.

The odds-on favorite for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Allisha Gray (20 points, including a dagger three-and-one vs. ATL on June 5) has a more crowded field of Western All-Star guards and wings to contend with to get to the extravaganza in Seattle in her first WNBA season. Gray will need to continue to stand out, going up against the top-notch defensive backcourt of Layshia Clarendon and Hayes.

Coming off a career-high 27 points to pace Atlanta over the Fever on Friday night, Clarendon knows that offensive consistency is key to making a closing case for her addition to the All-Star roster. Layshia leads all WNBA guards (min. 20 minutes per game) with a sterling 96.2 defensive rating.

Even frontcourt players on the Wings and the Dream have a shot with a solid effort. Elizabeth Williams enjoyed her second-consecutive outing with six blocked shots on Friday, surging to a tie for first in the East with 1.7 BPG. As for Dallas, Glory Johnson's 8.5 RPG ranks fifth in the league, two spots ahead of Williams (8.1 RPG).

Let's Go Dream!


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Noting that the East was less-contested, Tiffany Hayes was the only player to get #1 in her category for Fan, Media, and Player voting.


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Elizabeth Williams has rediscovered some of her defensive chops, with 17 blocks in the past three games. Her reward? A face-to-face with the most dominant player in the game right now. Brittney Griner and her Phoenix Mercury await the arrival of the Dream (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Arizona simulcast on Fox Sports Southeast) for tonight’s clash.

Coming off some well-publicized baby mama drama, Griner slogged through much of 2016, posting her lowest figures (14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) since her rookie season. The Merc followed suit, squeaking into the 2016 playoffs with a 16-18 record.

Phoenix pulled off two winner-take-all playoff upsets on the road before getting swept by Minnesota in the semifinals. But trades, retirements, and a pregnancy resulted in Sandy Brondello fielding a team with only two returning players, Griner and new all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi.

Former All-Star Danielle Robinson arrived via trade from San Antonio, her point guard play bolstered off the bench by the efficient free agent pickup Leilani Mitchell. Camille Little arrived via trade from Connecticut, filling in as best she can to compensate for the pregnancy suspension of DeWanna Bonner (whose wife and former teammate, Candice Dupree, signed with Indiana in the offseason).

Coach Sandy, an Aussie, enticed a pair of Opals, small forward Stephanie Talbot and center Cayla George, to come to the Valley of the Sun and help fill out the roster. They also swapped with the Stars again, acquiring former Mercury player Monique Currie in hopes of bringing their offensive efficiency (5th in WNBA) up to par with WNBA leaders Minnesota and Los Angeles.

After weeks of uneven play, Phoenix (10-6) is rising and hopes to notch their fourth consecutive regular-season victory, their first streak this long since winning five in a row back in July-August 2015. They want to keep the momentum positive, as they face a home-and-home pair of games with the first-place Lynx over three days this coming weekend.

Their uptick has everything to do with Griner (career-highs of 22.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 58.1 FG%, 2.1 APG). The league’s leading scorer, top free-throw maker and runaway leading shot-blocker (2.8 BPG) has probably eclipsed Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles in what was looking early-on like a one-woman race for MVP.

Griner had to notice, however, that she was not voted in as an All-Star starter by fans, finishing the weighted balloting in fifth-place out West behind Fowles, Maya Moore, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike (coaches and media did vote Griner 2nd). Over the next few games, Britt will be out to show fans what they’ve missed.

All indications suggest the reinvigorated 6-foot-9 Griner will be a tall order for Williams and whomever has the unfortunate assignment of keeping her out of the paint. But Brittney has also surprised opponents with a feathery mid-range touch, as she showcased (13-for-17 FGs, 31 points, 13 defensive boards, 6 blocks) in Sunday’s 81-69 flummoxing of Tina Charles and the visiting Liberty.

Atlanta’s best bet is to keep a big body in front of Griner, Williams (who also had a career-high 4 steals vs. DAL on Sunday) relying on help defenders to strip the center of the ball whenever she gathers the ball low or puts it on the floor, creating enough pressure to compel her to pass. When she screens for Taurasi, help should be coming on rotation so the Dream center can disrupt Griner’s rolls to the basket, while the Hall of Fame-bound guard cannot feast on open perimeter shots. The ideal scenario for Michael Cooper’s club is allowing the new Mercury players to make smart decisions with the ball.

Phoenix is pushing the ball on offense (3rd in offensive pace) while looking to slow the game down on defense (last in defensive pace), allowing Taurasi to rest and Griner to dig her heels in the halfcourt. When Griner makes a post play, whether Atlanta is rebounding or inbounding the ball, someone on the Dream needs to be leaking out and anticipating a downcourt pass in swift transition.

Hopefully, the fastbreak ball will find its way into the hands of another Brittney. Rookie sensation Brittney Sykes was en fuego from deep (4-for-5 3FGs) to help Atlanta (8-8) run away from Dallas 98-78, but she did struggle to find the bucket inside the arc (2-for-12 2FGs). Still, there wasn’t much to quibble with Sykes’ defense on Sunday: eight D-Rebs, three blocks, including an uncredited steal as she helped the Dream cool off Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Sykes needs 15 points tonight to make her the fifth Dream player (if Williams can muster at least nine herself) to average double figures. Williams and All-Star starter Tiffany Hayes (19 points, 6-for-12 FGs vs. DAL) should find little pressure out-running Mercury defenders in the fullcourt. Damiris Dantas (9.4 PPG) isn’t far behind, and if she can find her range (1-for-6 3FGs last three games, 11-for-52 on the season), she and Jordan Hooper (8-for-18 3FGs w/ ATL) can help push the Dream over the 80 PPG mark consistently.

Sykes, Hayes and Bria Holmes (4 assists vs. DAL) would do well to complete the extra cross-court pass whenever Griner approaches to thwart the wing players’ dribble penetration, alleviating Layshia Clarendon (8 assists, 16 points vs. DAL) from having to completely quarterback Atlanta to victory.

A fourth road win tonight would allow the Dream to hit the halfway mark of the season with a winning record, something that could not have been predicted when the season began, and certainly not coming out of a lackluster month of June.

Let’s Go Dream!


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Tough loss, a late-game lapse, but ONLY due to the brilliance of Brittney Griner! Well, that, and a wise play by Princess Di to get open for the dagger three!

Carry that effort forward into the back half of the season, Dream, and good things will happen!


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    • By lethalweapon3
      Atlanta Dream 2018: So crazy, this just might work!
      Another WNBA season at the Thillerdome is about to unfold, and this edition of the Atlanta Dream is certain to have a better “look” than the crew that entered 2017. But will a better “look” equal better end-of-season results?

      What’s different? Well, literally for starters, thanks to their efforts to take last season seriously, Layshia Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams each have a shiny new All-Star credential in their quivers. Not that she often really looked the part, but Brittney Sykes is no longer a rookie. There’s also a new Dream management and coaching team, one taking much more than the semi-serious approach to the WNBA offseason we’ve grown accustomed to around these parts.
      Oh, and there’s this: Angel McCoughtry is finally back!

      The march to May 2018 began in January of 2017, when Atlanta’s franchise star announced a WNBA sabbatical to grant her body, and her focus, a well-deserved respite. That decision set the team’s clock ticking, first for coach Michael Cooper and now for his replacements, to provide the building blocks for a team ready to contend not only after McCoughtry returns to WNBA action, but in time for the team to return to a renovated Highlight Factory in the spring of 2019.

      If new GM Chris Sienko and the new coaching staff, led by first-timer Nicki Collen, can get this team to gel quickly, contention might not have to wait until next year.

      After issuing Cooper his walking papers, team owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler essentially knew what they were looking for in a head coach – and, more specifically, who. They got plenty of intel from Sienko, the consultant they would later hire to be the new GM. So, by the time Collen arrived for an interview from Sienko’s former employer, the Connecticut Sun, the Dream owners were already planning to hand over the head coach job.
      Don’t expect a vast departure from the high-paced “Run With The Dream” philosophy of seasons past. Collen has repeatedly noted a desire to get her new team to “play fast.” Yet, she wishes to depart from her predecessors by demanding quick decisions and efficient ball movement to extend to the halfcourt offense, where Atlanta historically bogs down.
      Swift decisions with the rock, when Angel gets double-teamed, when Layshia attacks inside off pick-and-roll action, when Brittney beats her assignment, when Tip drives, when Libby snags an offensive rebound… Collen wants the Dream offensive players to know how to execute, precisely, and find open scoring opportunities for teammates when opposing defenses find themselves imbalanced.
      With Sienko in charge, Atlanta made potentially the most momentous veteran free agent signings in franchise history, at least the biggest early-offseason additions since acquiring Sancho Lyttle via the 2008 Comets dispersal draft.

      Guard depth was immensely advanced with the acquisition of Renee Montgomery, a former All-Star and Sixth Woman of the Year who is now a two-time WNBA champion, after going all the way with the Minnesota Lynx last season. Those individual accolades for Montgomery, who was already living in Atlanta during her offseasons, came while she was playing with Sienko’s Sun from 2010-2014.
      Back with the Lynx for the past two-and-a-half seasons, Renee shot a career-best 42.4 percent from the field in 2017, and also spelled future Hall of Fame guard Lindsay Whalen, the player Montgomery was traded for following her 2009 rookie season in Minnesota. Montgomery filled in capably for Whalen in 12 starts last season, while the latter was sidelined with a hand injury. She averaged a 2.0 assist/TO ratio last season, dishing out the most per-36 assists since her 2011 All-Star season in Connecticut.
      Renee provides the Dream not only steady ballhandling but a legitimate perimeter shooting threat (8th all-time in 3FGs made), especially when the stakes increase. In Minnesota, Montgomery shot 39.3 3FG% (11-for-28) in the 2017 playoffs, boosting her career postseason accuracy to 38.2 3FG%. That included sinking half of her 14 attempts along the way to the WNBA Finals. Her being a decent free throw shooter (83.7 career FT%) is an additional plus for Atlanta. Even so much as a modest regression from her recent play with the reigning champs would still be a welcome development for a Dream team that has struggled with quality guard depth for years.

      Sienko and the Dream were not done, bolstering the frontcourt by wooing another former All-Star honoree, Jessica Breland of the Chicago Sky. The power forward also played with Mongtomery, briefly, with the 2011 Sun, and provides an experienced yet younger alternative to longtime Dream star Sancho Lyttle, who signed as a free agent with Phoenix.
      Returning full-time to a starter role in 2017, Jessica compiled her best numbers since her 2014 All-Star season with the Sky. She has ranked top-five in block percentage in four of her past five seasons, and she matched her career-best with 12 rebounds (11 defensive) during an early-season win in Atlanta last year. Her overall on-court efficiency took a dive in recent seasons, as it would for anyone no longer paired alongside Sylvia Fowles and/or Elena Delle Donne. But Breland should have no problems blending into frontcourt lineups featuring McCoughtry and Williams.

      In search of a frontcourt player who could serve as a stretch-four, Atlanta brought free agent Damiris Dantas back into the fold. In addition to the likelihood of more pick-and-pop action for Williams, Collen has expressed further excitement over the possibility of using Breland more in this specific role. Jessica flashed some of that perimeter potential at the outset of 2017 (7-for-17 3FGs in first ten games). But Chicago started out 2-8 and shied away from her outside shooting as the season wore on (just 1-for-4 3FGs in her final 24 Sky appearances). Potentially boosting the team depth would be rookie second-rounder Monique Billings, a 6-foot-4 forward who is hoping to expand on her newfound mid-range jumpshot.

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    • By lethalweapon3
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      5. San Antonio (from Phoenix)
      6. Washington Mystics (from Seattle)
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      (** edited to include Early-Entry Players)
      PG: Kelsey Plum (5'8", Washington), Alexis Jones (5'9", Baylor), Alexis Peterson (5'7", Syracuse), Lindsay Allen (5'8", Notre Dame), Leticia Romero (5'8", Florida State)
      SG: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (5'11", Maryland), **Allisha Gray (6'0", South Carolina, Washington County GA HS), ** Kaela Davis (6'2", South Carolina, Georgia Tech transfer, Buford HS, Antonio's daughter), Sydney Wiese (6'1", Oregon State), Alexis Prince (6'2", Baylor), Makayla Epps (5'10", Kentucky), Tori Jankoska (5'8", Michigan State), Adrienne Motley (5'9", Miami), Brittney Sykes (5'9", Syracuse), Saniya Chong (5'8", Connecticut)
      SF: Nina Davis (5'11", Baylor), Ronni Williams (6'0", Florida), Lizzy Wendell (6'0", Drake), Jennie Simms (6'0", Old Dominion)
      PF: Nia Coffey (6'1", Northwestern), Chantel Osahor (6'2", Washington), Jessica Jackson (6'3", Arkansas), Shayla Cooper (6'2", Ohio State, Norcross HS), Hannah Little (6'1", Oakland)
      C: Alaina Coates (6'4", South Carolina), Brionna Jones (6'3", Maryland), Erica McCall (6'3", Stanford), Evelyn Akhator (6'3", Kentucky), Breanna Lewis (6'5", Kansas State), Tearra Banks (6'2", Austin Peay)