The Atlanta Dream's quest for an WNBA Championship begins on Friday when they open a best of three series against the Chicago Sky at Philips Arena. Atlanta captured its first ever regular season Eastern Conference crown with a 19-15 record while Chicago battled through an injury plagued campaign to finish as the fourth seed.
Atlanta got off to a 15-5 start under new head coach Michael Cooper but faltered down the stretch and enter the playoffs with a number of question marks. Atlanta lost 10 of their final 14 games including five straight on the road. That stretch coincided with Cooper having to leave the bench to seek treatment for early stage tongue cancer but they remained inconsistent following his return.
Chicago took three of the five meetings between the two teams but Atlanta was without leading scorer Angel McCoughtry in two of those losses. McCoughtry was banged up down the stretch missing a pair of games due to tendinitis in both feet. Her scoring average dipped this season but Atlanta needs her to be healthy and effective in the playoffs to have a chance to make a second-straight trip to the Finals.
Atlanta won't get any sympathy from the Sky who have battled injury throughout the season. Chicago began the year without both Epiphany Prince and Sylvia Fowles and later lost point guard Courtney Vandersloot along with leading scorer Elena Delle Donne. Vandersloot missed over a month of action with a knee injury but returned for the final two games of the regular season. Delle Donne missed 17 games due to a flare up of lyme disease and came off the bench for the Sky down the stretch.
On paper this series could be a great matchup and entertaining to watch. One area of concern for Atlanta is their perimeter game. The Dream finished dead last in the WNBA in three-point percentage making just over 30 percent of their attempts. The Sky finished just about league average at 33 percent. Atlanta also struggled to defend the three-point line as opponents converted on 36 percent of their attempts. Chicago on the other hand was tied for third in the WNBA in opponents' three-point percentage.
Pace is another key factor for Atlanta as is their defensive intensity. The Dream must look to turn up the defensive intensity and push for early offense. Most of Atlanta's struggles down the stretch centered on some defensive miscues and the absence of their vaunted running game. Few teams can equal the Dream in transition but their lack of perimeter shooting leaves them vulnerable in a half court setting.
Two x-factor players to keep an eye on are Atlanta's Shoni Schimmel and Chicago's Allie Quigley. Both players have the ability to come off the bench and put up points in bunches and Schimmel's three-point shooting could be very valuable to the Dream. Quigley stepped in and helped keep the Sky in playoff contention while Vandersloot and Delle Donne were out and makes them that much more dangerous now that they are healthy.
Game Date/Time: Friday, August 22, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: NBA TV
Streaming: WNBA Live Access