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2021 Atlanta Dream and WNBA Previews


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All New Everything! All New Everything! All New Everything! I’m not so sure they’re about to kill ‘em this summer, but the Atlanta Dream are doin’ All New Everything!

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When the curtain closed on the Dream in 2020’s hermetically sealed Wubble, the greatest question of uncertainty was whether the rebuilding roster would finally get to open up the 25th WNBA season in their promised, still minty-fresh venue by the Airport in College Park. The next biggest questions involved who is going to be around to make sure the arena doors get unlocked, and who will be paying the bills and signing the checks.

The first answer seems to be an easy one. Atlanta will begin the season at their long-awaited new home, the Georgia International Convention Center’s Gateway Center Arena, completed in 2019 to host the G-League’s College Park Skyhawks. Capacity in the south Fulton County venue is a bite-sized 3,500, but it’s hoped the ambience will prove to be more right-sized for WNBA games.

All the other answers are nuanced, at best, and murky, at worst.

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The Dream and their WNBA colleagues notched their biggest win of 2021 when they nudged their longtime ownership out the paint. The New Gang comes from Massachusetts-based investment firm Northland Group, CEO Larry Gottesdiener and COO Suzanne Abair, the latter of whom appears to be most enmeshed in the team’s daily affairs.

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Tagging along as a minority owner and team vice president is the collective’s public face: two-time WNBA champ and Hawks/Skyhawks gameday analyst Renee Montgomery. Renee held out from playing in 2020’s Wubble for the Dream to better indulge in her many pursuits, and she officially retired from the league mere weeks before the announcement of the ownership change.

Holding the fort for Atlanta throughout the turbulent 2020 Atlanta season, and most of this off-season, were President and General Manager Chris Sienko and Head Coach Nicki Collen. Emphasis on, “were.”

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Sienko continued the post-Angel McCoughtry-era roster reconstruction by exercising the team option on center Kalani Brown, reeling in forwards Cheyenne Parker and Tianna Hawkins and guard Odyssey Sims in free agency, and drafting the next great A-Mac, March Madness breakout star and newest Arizona grad Aari McDonald, with the 3rd pick in last month’s WNBA Draft.

Just days after the ink dried on McDonald’s rookie deal, Sienko was packing boxes and vacating his Marietta Street office after getting fired. Did anyone mention, the WNBA season would begin in a few weeks? Me? I’m not lovin’ it.

Anyone, especially the people keeping the lights on, is within their rights to review Sienko’s tenure critically. Atlanta surprised the league with a 23-11 season, with Angel, and a Conference Finals appearance that went the full five games, without an injured Angel, in 2018. That earned Sienko and Collen leaguewide executive and coaching honors. But the Dream slumped to 8-26, without Angel until the final game, in 2019, then 7-15 in the pandemic-truncated 2020 season, allowing for some Lottery-level rebuilding of the team’s backcourt.

Sienko was hamstrung in the early going by the management errors made by an independently operating coach in Michael Cooper, Collen’s predecessor, and salary cap obligations tied to McCoughtry’s 2017 voluntary suspension and 2018 season-ending injury. The teardown after 2019 and the elective sit-outs of Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes meant last season carried over just two Dream players.

The cold reality of 2021 is the reformulating club, no matter how improved, would be standing in the shadows of WNBA Finals contenders Las Vegas and Seattle, as will many others. Further, unlike in the years before 2016, a third-place finish in the WNBA Eastern Conference is not necessarily enough to be rewarded with a Playoff game, particularly not a home game as part of a series. All told, any near-term success the Dream could enjoy on the floor should not be, nor should have been, laden with outsized, 2018-level expectations of overachievement.

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I don’t know if Coach Nicki is an avid coffee drinker, but she was certainly able to read the tea leaves after her working partner Sienko was axed. There will come a time, before the league celebrates its silver anniversary, where a lead job coaching up paid professional athletes is more valuable than one at a major college program. The horizon has not arrived just yet.

Collen saw the opening created when new LSU coach Kim Mulkey abandoned her post at Baylor. On a Monday last week, she was preparing her players for today’s season-opener. On a Wednesday, Coach Nicki was announced as the new head coach in Waco, diving into the apparatus of a program that just reached the Final Four last month. Not even former Baylor star Kalani Brown, the burly backup center Collen sought to acquire last season from Los Angeles, nor ex-Bears star Sims were clued in before the announcement dropped.

Again, has it been mentioned, the WNBA season begins, in College Park, today? Gulp!

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Fortunately, Collen didn’t have designs to bring any of her trusted assistants with her. “When the winds of change blow,” philosopher and interim head coach Mike Petersen shared during the team’s first practice following Collen’s departure, “and they are blowing right now… some people build walls, for protection. Other people build windmills, to create power.”

“(Assistant coach Darius Taylor) and I? We’re in the windmill business.” A natural at inspiration, Petersen has long played the good-cop, rah-rah role off Collen’s bench, and he has an established rapport with veterans like Elizabeth Williams, Tiffany Hayes and Monique Billings. He was also a late-game strategist during Collen’s timeouts.

How well Petersen can handle the task full-time remains to be seen, but players heeding his direction during this transitional phase won’t be a problem at all. New assistant coaches La’Keshia Frett, a former WNBA player and a Hampton Roads-area legend like Elizabeth Williams, and Daynia La-Force just joined Taylor on the bench a few days ago.

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Before the Baylor job opened up, Collen professed to desiring frontcourt players who could space the floor, and Sienko delivered in the offseason. Chicago decided their town wasn’t big enough for two C. Parkers, so as Candace makes her way to her native land from Los Angeles, Cheyenne Parker (no relation) now resides here in The A. While putting up career marks in 2020, Cheyenne’s 55.4 FG% (incl. 15-for-32 3FGs) last season ranked 5th in The W.

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Spelling Parker off the bench, Hawkins is likely to join guard Courtney Williams as a strong candidate for Sixth Woman of the Year. The free agent forward was instrumental in the Washington Mystics’ run to the 2019 championship, hitting six of ten three-pointers in the playoffs, and continued providing serviceable minutes behind the Mystics’ star forwards in 2020.

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Sims shined as a full-time starter in Minnesota in 2019, leading the Lynx in scoring and assists while becoming a first-time All-Star, but the rise of reigning Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield found her playing second-fiddle upon her return from pregnancy. Odyssey provides another veteran presence in the backcourt that will aid Carter and McDonald in their WNBA development. These additions, plus a full season of Williams, gives the Dream its best second unit in recent memory.

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As is the case for virtually every WNBA team, overlapping commitments with overseas teams usually has players unavailable to start training camp and the regular season. Hayes will be returning from Spain after shining last month in the EuroLeague Women Final Four club tourney. WNBA players are committed to many national clubs, not just Team USA, so absences ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games abound. How well Tiffany performs upon her return, after opting out of 2020, need not be a concern given how she played against other WNBA stars in Europe.

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In a transition ushered last season by Carter, 2020’s All-Rookie sensation, the roster has the makings of a run-and-gun outfit not seen since McCoughtry’s and Hayes’ early years sprinting Atlanta into WNBA Finals. The challenges will be keeping motion and ball movement up, and turnovers down as the old “there’s only one ball” applies, and Chennedy (WNBA-high 31.9 usage% in 2020) will have to share playmaking duties.

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Defense in the halfcourt and in transition will be a work in progress, likely to be enhanced upon Hayes’ arrival. Elizabeth Williams, who finished third in total blocks last season, Shekinna Stricklen, Brown, Parker and Hawkins will all have to run the floor to keep up the heightened pace and secure rebounds at both ends, a tall task due to age and/or size.

Whether a diminutive backcourt of Carter and McDonald can hold up defensively in this league also remains to be seen, but any concerns that a lack of size can’t thrive were allayed last year with the arrival to the league of Dangerfield, who earned her respect after being passed over until Minnesota selected her midway through the second round of 2020’s Draft.

The Dream will miss Betnijah Laney, 2020’s WNBA Most Improved Player who departed in free agency for New York, and Blake Dietrick, who helped Atlanta escape the perennial basement for three-point marksmanship (35.0 team 3FG% in 2020, 6th in WNBA). Carter shot the ball well from outside as a rookie, and she will need McDonald and the veterans to make good on their perimeter threats to keep her from absorbing double-teams and grant her more open looks.

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In a town where change comes faster than a camera flash, the nebulosity of the Dream’s leadership, frankly, is something this franchise, its fanbase, and its longer-tenured players have grown accustomed to over many years. Same with the venue, the marquee players, the management, the team identity, and the team’s financial viability. So much has been up in the air, for so long. For all the organizational missteps and hard-luck setbacks, including a pandemic, it is amazing to see Atlanta has persevered to see its WNBA team play in the league’s celebratory 25th season. At this point, there isn’t any time for the Dream to ponder, or worry about what the future holds. Beginning at tip-off today, there is only time to tilt at the windmills. Better yet, it's time to run them.

 

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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If you’re running to Gateway Center to catch the Dream live in today’s WNBA season-opener versus the Connecticut Sun (7:30 PM Eastern), you’re going to have to buy season tickets first! Whoever’s in charge announced they are limiting attendance for season-ticket holders, at least for this month, as the ongoing pandemic abates.

Whenever you choose to attend, here are links to driving and MARTA directions (including the ATL SkyTrain people-mover from the Airport) to the Arena. Gateway Center is a short walk past the convention center from the GICC Gateway Station (the station preceding the rental-car return station), and from the GICC parking lots.

https://arenagatewaycenter.com/getting-here/driving-directions/

https://arenagatewaycenter.com/getting-here/

 

As you know, conferences don’t matter like they used to, and that’s a good thing in terms of leaguewide competition. However, in celebration of the 25th WNBA season, the league is introducing a Commissioner’s Cup. Ten in-conference games before the Olympic Break will be designated as Cup games. The top finishers in each conference will vie after the Break for the Cup in Phoenix on August 12, three days before the WNBA season resumes.

Accommodating both the Olympics schedule and the Cup final, the season is shortened to 32 from its customary 34 games. Atlanta will face the Las Vegas Aces twice, and every other opponent thrice.

The league is insistent on finding new avenues for casuals to watch live games. Thus, some games, like today’s, will be available on Twitter, and others, like Wednesday’s home match versus Candace Parker and Chicago, via Facebook. Amazon Prime Video will be streaming select WNBA games during the season. And all games will be available, on TVs and tablets, via WNBA League Pass.

Bawb is catching a break! Bob Rathbun will get to pursue other ventures this summer, once the Hawks’ postseason comes to a close. LaChina Robinson will be back, though, as will Angel Gray and Tabitha Turner, as the first all-Black female broadcast crew will cover up to ten Dream games during this 32-game season.

The Dream will pop in on national broadcasts throughout the season, too! As always, check your local listings.

 

ATLANTA DREAM SCHEDULE

(Local and national TV broadcasts in Bold)

Friday, May 14 – vs. Connecticut Sun (7:30 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Wednesday, May 19 – vs. Chicago Sky (7 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Friday, May 21 – at Indiana Fever (7 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Tuesday, May 25 – at Chicago (8 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network, Prime Video)

Thursday, May 27 – vs. Dallas Wings (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Saturday, May 29 – at New York Liberty (2 PM Eastern)

Friday, June 4 – at Minnesota Lynx (8 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Sunday, June 6 – at Minnesota (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Wednesday, June 9 – vs. Seattle Storm (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast)

Friday, June 11 – vs. Seattle (8 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Sunday, June 13 – vs. Washington Mystics (3:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South in ATL, NBATV)

Thursday, June 17 – at Washington (7 PM Eastern)

Wednesday, June 23 – vs. Minnesota (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast Alternate)

Saturday, June 26 – vs. New York (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South)

Tuesday, June 29 – vs. New York (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, ESPN3)

Friday, July 2 – at Seattle (10 PM Eastern, Twitter)

Sunday, July 4 – at Las Vegas Aces (6 PM Eastern)

Friday, July 9 – at Connecticut (7 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Sunday, July 11 – vs. Indiana (5 PM Eastern, Facebook)

[BREAK -- OLYMPIC GAMES FROM JULY 26 THROUGH AUGUST 8]

[WNBA COMMISSIONER’S CUP GAME – AUGUST 12]

Sunday, August 15 – at Phoenix Mercury (6 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Tuesday, August 17 – at Los Angeles Sparks (10:30 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Thursday, August 19 – at Los Angeles (10:30 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Saturday, August 21 – vs. Phoenix (12 Noon Eastern, ESPN2)

Tuesday, August 24 – vs. Chicago (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, ESPN3)

Thursday, August 26 – vs. Las Vegas (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, NBATV)

Thursday, September 2 – at Dallas (8 PM Eastern, Facebook)

Sunday, September 5 – at Dallas (4 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)

Wednesday, September 8 – vs. Phoenix (7 PM Eastern, ESPN2)

Friday, September 10 – at Washington (7 PM Eastern, NBATV)

Tuesday, September 14 – vs. Indiana (7 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast, NBATV)

Thursday, September 16 – vs. Los Angeles (7 PM Eastern)

Sunday, September 19 – at Connecticut (1 PM Eastern, NBATV)

 

~lw3

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Thanks for the write up.   I'm determined to watch more Dream this year. Wish Renee was still playing but it'll be great to have her as the face of the franchise.  I didn't even know they were going to play in CP. That place is really cool

Go Dream!

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It's WNBA Power Poll time!

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Las Vegas Aces – The WNBA championship is a foregone conclusion now that Liz Cambage returns, with co-stars, including Chelsea Gray and league MVP A’ja Wilson, ready to roll in coach Bill Laimbeer’s quest for a his first ring since 2008. Yes, Angel McCoughtry is out for the season again, this time due to a torn meniscus and ACL suffered in preseason (The league had better not mess up and leave her out of the All-25 WNBA Team this time around). Still, don’t bet against Vegas!

 

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Seattle StormBreanna Stewart has a complete lineup to defend the WNBA title, if the bet, that Katie Lou Samuelson is prepared to make her big leap pays off. The reigning champs didn’t skip a beat under assistant Gary Kloppenburg in the Wubble, and with Dan Hughes back in charge, the only question is how different this team will look with Samuelson and Candice Dupree in place of Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard.

 

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Minnesota Lynx – She's the real deal, that Crystal Dangerfield. As was true in recent seasons, Maya Moore would have vaulted reigning Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve’s club toward the top, but with Napheesa Collier and a healthier Sylvia Fowles to dominate frontlines, and Dangerfield’s fearless offensive output, there's no waiting around for her return.

 

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Phoenix Mercury – So much talent, such established reputations, yet still so many question marks abound. Can the Sky and Di reboot of Taurasi and Diggins-Smith, work this time? Will Brittney Griner be running in the final chase for MVP? Can coach Sandy Brondello hang on for one more season?

 

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Chicago Sky – It took a minute to get to a WNBA East team, didn’t it? Her Hall of Fame credentials intact, Candace Parker comes home to make the Sky an instant threat. There’s no question what Parker, and veteran guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley bring to the table, nor how good James Wade can be coaching up this group. Can Diamond DeShields and Azura Stevens bounce back after disappointing 2020 seasons?

 

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Washington Mystics – We finally get to witness Elana Delle Donne and Tina Charles wrecking shop together. Good thing, for the rest of the league, that Emma Meesseman is out satisfying her Belgian and overseas commitments, because her return will make the Mystics’ frontline patently unfair. Depth is all else that's missing from coach Mike Thibault’s roster, and the team will miss Clark, the free agent pickup now sidelined for the season with a foot fracture.

 

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Los Angeles SparksThe losses of Parker and Gray are certain to lead to a stepback for coach Derek Fisher’s crew. That is, unless Nneka Ogwumike, her returning sister Chiney, Amanda Zahui B and Brittney Sykes all make strides.

 

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New York Liberty – This team would be a big threat to make an instant, winning splash, what with Betnijah Laney joining forces with would-be Rookie of the Year winner Sabrina Ionescu, the latter lost to injury early in the 2020 season. The Howard acquisition was another bold offseason stroke. But Howard and Kia Stokes are still satisfying overseas commitments, while coach Walt Hopkins will have to proceed without COVID long-hauler Asia Durr.

 

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Connecticut Sun – Another year, another opportunity for coach Curt Miller’s club to overcome a setback. Alyssa Thomas was the straw that stirs the drink, but an Achilles injury suffered overseas will have her out for all of 2021. She will be missed, but All-Star center Jonquel Jones, who opted out of 2020, returns in full force. Her pairing with DeWanna Bonner will be fun. The lack of experienced depth will not.

 

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ATLANTA DREAM – The pending return of Tiffany Hayes, frontcourt reinforcements, the arrival of Aari McDonald and the emergence of Chennedy Carter makes this season one worth building upon. Who, exactly, is going to be around to see this rebuilding phase through? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

 

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Indiana Fever – Shocking 2020 All-Rookie guard Julie Allemand proved to be quite a catch for coach Marianne Stanley, whose team remains adamant about its slow-growth strategy. Can Lauren Cox and Teaira McCowan emerge upfront, to help top scorer Kelsey Mitchell, Allemand and the guards make an even bigger step up in 2021?

 

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Dallas Wings – Vickie Johnson, Laimbeer’s ace assistant, returns to Texas to coach up what is still a painfully young team, sure to take its lumps. The glut of incoming rookies, including center Charli Collier as the first of three among the first five WNBA Draft picks, won't ease things for league-leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale, not right away.

 

~lw3

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Even without former colleagues Chris Sienko and Nicki Collen, Curt Miller keeps pulling rabbits out of hats. He did it in 2019 in guiding Courtney Williams and his Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, and he nearly pulled off the feat again in 2020's Playoffs.. The Sun, as underdogs that finished Wubble play at 10-12, singed two opponents in elimination games, then took top-seeded Vegas to a fifth and deciding game in the WNBA semifinals.

Connecticut enters WNBA play today in College Park versus the Atlanta Dream (7:30 PM Eastern, Twitter) with one star that missed 2020 returning and one that helped make 2020 successful unavailable for this season. Jack-of-all-trades forward Alyssa Thomas tore an Achilles while playing overseas and will be sidelined for all of 2021. Master-of-many-trades center Jonquel Jones is back to wage an MVP campaign. But it feels like the roster construction around Jones has been poor, with the most stacked bench talent -- Brionna Jones, Beatrice Mompremier -- arguably playing behind her.

Former Dream and All-Star guard Jasmine Thomas has returned to the States from Turkish League play, but remains suspended as she has yet to clear COVID protocols. Constrained from adding talent due to salary cap constraints, the Sun are basically 10-deep with Natasha Heideman starting, and two recent late-round draft pickups, DiJonai Carrington and Aleah Goodman, supporting her and Briann January in the backcourt.

DeWanna Bonner and Jones should form a potent duo upfront, and Kaila Charles, herself a low second-rounder from 2020, should emerge in her second season at forward as well. But no one can afford to get into foul trouble, or games could spiral out of control.

Even without the availability of Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta (7-15 last season) has the depth advantage tonight, if not the know-how. Whether it's Cheyenne Parker inside or Elizabeth Williams outside, Dream players must make the taleneted Jonquel put the ball on the floor in hopes of producing turnovers. As versatile as Bonner can be, she is not the best perimeter shooter (25.2 3FG%), so the Dream must box out the Sun's bigs whenever DeWanna settles for long-range attempts.

The Thomases were the glue that kept opponents stuck shooting poorly from the perimeter. Atlanta has to use the pick-and-toll to keep the Jones girls honest, but also kick out and move the ball around the horn to find open shooters, then hitting them at a rate that only Jonquel could help the Sun match.

If Mike Petersen can keep the Dream focused on the tasks at hand, Atlanta's debut at Gateway Center could be a winning one

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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What the... ok if I wasn’t a diehard you’re trying to make me one lw3! It’s like having trading cards online for free. Lol I have a problem wanting to digest it so it could take me a minute to read. The NBA I follow in my brain as I read, this one I gotta almost learn these ladies right quick 😂. Crazy awesome stuff. #slayer #sportymarkymarktwain

Go Dream!! 

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The third-leading scorer in the WNBA is sorely missed by your Atlanta Dream.

She's the reigning WNBA Most Improved Player. But in 2021, nobody had Betnijah Laney (23.3 PPG, 57.1 3FG% w/ NYL) doing all o' that!

Least of all, the Chicago Sky, who drafted Laney into the league in 2015 and had her for three seasons. An ACL tear midway through her 2016 season derailed her development in Chi-town. But no matter. At least the Sky have 2019 Coach of the Year James Wade. They've got a long-tenured All-Star backcourt. And they've got a(nother) local legend in the fold.

Candace Parker joins Allie Quigley with Chicago, who visits Gateway Center for a match with the Dream this evening (7 PM Eastern, Facebook) in search of a second consecutive road victory. In her Sky-high debut, she sunk 3 of 4 three-pointers on the way to 16 points plus 8 boards and 4 dimes, making it easy to outpace a Washington Mystics team that is sorely missing a couple key players themselves (Elena Delle Donne to recovery from back surgery; Emma Meesseman to international commitments).

The Sky were also aided by Kahleah Copper's 23 points and 8 rebounds in the win at D.C. Big Mama Stef Dolson didn't have the best of games, but she is newly on the team suspension list to prepare for USA's 3x3 Olympic Team, replaced by rebounding rookie Natasha Mack.

Elizabeth Williams doesn't have her projected starting power forward alongside her, as Cheyenne Parker (out, COVID) is a finalist with Huascar the Ouch for this month's ATL Sports Boo Boo the Foo award. E-Will and the Dream were thoroughly overwhelmed by Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner in Atlanta's 78-67 season-opening loss to visiting Connecticut. She got little offensive help from her supporting cast, who granted her few paint touches while shooting a woeful 3-for-18 on threes and 20-for-60 inside the perimeter. She'll need a bigger role in coach Mike Petersen's offense to offset Parker this evening.

Tianna Hawkins and Mo Billings have to rotate out on Candace (former Wings center Astou Ndour-Fall looks to be the player filling in for Dolson, if not second-year forward Ruthy Hebard) and make her put the ball on the floor. One thing that made the final outcome for Atlanta (0-1) last Friday not a complete disaster were the 20 turnovers they forced on the Sun, including 8 of the Dream's ten players recording at least one steal.

For a decent chance at victory tonight, Speedy backcourt players Chennedy Carter and Aari McDonald (the rookie still seeking her first career field goal, 0-for-4 off the bench vs. CON) must beat Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot up the floor in transition, converting Sky turnovers and misses into buckets and/or free throws.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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4 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Aari McDonald

Saw some more of her college highlights. She’s got the shwaaaaggg. Lil southpaw special for ya. She had a point! One is better than none! Get it ladies!

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Show of hands. Who had the Dream beating the Bravos to .500?

No Candace Parker, who injured herself before shootaround in Atlanta last week, and no Allie Quigley greased the skids for the Sky in today's first televised Dream game.

But for the unawares, here's a Tip: she's baaaaaaack!

~lw3

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On 5/24/2021 at 11:06 PM, NBASupes said:

Losing Laney is so freaking stupid. She's a female Kawhi Leonard. 

to wit:

we're left to wonder whether letting Betnijah get away was Sienko's most fire-able offense.

~lw3

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On 5/24/2021 at 8:06 PM, NBASupes said:

Losing Laney is so freaking stupid. She's a female Kawhi Leonard. 

Wow really? I’ve just started watched the ladies games. A female Kawhi, dang. That’s dope.

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Atlanta versus New York, Game 1. WNBA Style!

Our Atlanta Dream can't expect the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the New York Liberty's fantastic Sabrina Ioenscu (18.4 PPG, 8.8 APG, 6.4 RPG in her 1st five games) to put up Julius Randle numbers in this game (2 PM Eastern, Amazon Prime). So they'll need a leading contender for this week's award to help the Dream (3-2, winners of three straight) keep up.

Averaging 17.8 PPG in her first four games back, Tiffany Hayes has made seven of her 12 three-point attempts and scored 26 points in each of Atlanta's last two victories. Throw in Courtney Williams (54.2 3FG%) getting hot from outside, and the Dream suddenly have the perimeter presence that takes pressure off of driving guard Chennedy Carter (team-high 3.8 APG) and the offensively dormant (an annual occurrence this time of year) Elizabeth Williams (5.2 PPG, 2-for-11 FTs).  

If you catch the game on Prime you'll get to see how 2020's Most Improved Player winner for the Dream, Betnijah Laney, has taken it up another notch to become a Prime Time Player for Walt Hopkins' club (5-1). A beneficiary of attention thrown Ionescu's way and dimes from Ionescu thrown in her own direction, Laney's 22.7 PPG ranks third in the W. Laney was also the surprise beneficiary of Hayes' decision not to play in 2020, so it will be a fascinating matchup as Tip tries to slow Betnijah's roll. Ionescu, meanwhile, will face off with Atlanta for the first time since a season-ending ankle injury during a Dream game in the Wubble short-circuited her 2020 rookie campaign early.

As Atlanta's backcourt tries to deal with the league's best perimeter-shooting team in New York (43.7 team 3FG%), the Dream need more balance from their offensively inert frontcourt. E-Will's free throw ineptitude is emblematic of a Dream squad that earns the most free throw trips (WNBA-high 23.8 FTAs/game), but leaves points on the table (71.4 team FT%, next-to-last in WNBA).  She needs to step up today against a Liberty squad that's missing another of their big offseason pickups, Natasha Howard, for at least 4-6 weeks due to a sprained MCL.

Second-year stretch Kylee Shook has moved into the starting lineup, beside rookie first-rounder forward Michaela Onyenwere, but it has really been rebounding-by-committee anyway, with guards Ionescu and Sami Whitcomb (5.5 RPG) serving as the active leaders for the Libs. Atlanta will need Mo Billings (1.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG; probably time to start her instead of Tianna Hawkins, who's 0-for-12 on threes) and E-Will to dominate the glass, and they'll need their guards to keep New York's from nabbing boards to control possessions and pace.

E-Will won Most Improved back in 2016 with Atlanta and, after Laney, there may be someone that can have the Dream going 2 for 2 in that department. A 2015 first-rounder with Los Angeles out of Central Michigan, Crystal Bradford has not played in the league since that rookie season. But the swing player has provided defense, rebounding, and the occasional spark off the bench for coach Mike Petersen's crew. If Bradford and the Dream wings put up enough fight, they'll give Chennedy a puncher's chance at quieting the crowd and stealing a win late at Barclays Center. Somebody call the Mayor, he may want to tune in.

 

Let's Go Dream!

~lw3

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