The Atlanta Dream came into the season with two areas that they must improve on if they hoped to just back into the postseason picture. They must cut down on turnovers and improve on the defensive end of the floor. If their season opening win provided a bit of confidence, Friday's loss to the Indiana Fever was a step or two backwards.
The Dream shot themselves in the foot repeatedly piling up 16 first half turnovers while falling behind by as many as 15 points. They finished with 22 turnovers on the night which Indiana was able to turn into 25 points. Predictably, head coach Michael Cooper was not happy with his team's execution.
“I think it was our inability," Cooper said. "The Fever definitely played defense because they had 17 steals or something like that. But again, it was our inefficiency to come down and make the right play. I think we’re just throwing the ball in too loose with it. Do that and good teams capitalize on it…"
Cooper made another change at point guard prior to the game inserting Layshia Clarendon into the starting lineup replacing Carla Cortijo. Clarendon responded with a career-high 19 points and six rebounds but totaled just two assists against five turnovers.
The Dream assisted on just nine of their 31 made field goals. They shot the ball well finishing at 48 percent but too many times their offense came off of too many one on one situations.
Clarendon is a good enough scorer and defender but hasn't shown a lot of playmaking ability for her teammates. Cortijo started the opener and all of the preseason but may be the exact opposite to the point where opposing defenses don't even respect her. Cortijo was a DNP-CD against the Fever with Matee Ajavon seeing a lot of minutes as the back up point guard which is usually never going to be a winning proposition.
“We’re a really good team, a little bit young," Clarendon said. "We have some older vets. But I think we have a lot to build on. And you can’t spot a team 16 or whatever points in the second quarter. I think we did a great job in the second half. But we know that we can’t spot teams that many points. So be a little more disciplined. Obviously, we handed them the ball I think 17 times in the first half. So be more disciplined and control what we can"
The best playmaker on the team is Angel McCoughtry who appears to still be getting comfortable to the myriad of changes the Dream have made. She has seen very limited space to work with over the first two games against opposing defenses.
Offensive struggles aside, the Dream were taken apart defensively by an Indiana team that resembles a well oiled machine in the early going. The Fever shot 49 percent from the field and piled up 19 assists on 32 made baskets. They equaled a franchise record for the second straight game with seven different players in double figures led by Tamika Catchings' 14. Still, Cooper wasn't happy with his team's defensive effort overall.
"Not hard at all," Cooper answered when asked how difficult it was to prepare for a team with such a balanced offense. "I think it’s just our ability to get down and play defense and decide and dictate who we want to take the shots. And I don’t think we did that as well as they did it tonight. They dictated who shot the ball for us. Again, we’re a work in progress and it’s going to take some time to improve on. We’re 1-1, could easily be 0-2 because of winning that San Antonio game and had a chance to win this one. So it’s early in the season, but the one part about the playoff format is that you can’t lose games like this. You need these early games to stay in the hunt.”
If the Dream are going to stay in the hunt, they are going to have to find an answer to their point guard problem and get better play from their frontcourt. While McCoughtry is rounding into shape, Sancho Lyttle's start to the season is a bit troubling. She finished with one point and seven rebounds while going 0 for 5 from the field against Indiana. She is now 2 for 15 from the field through the first two games.
“I think we had a rough start and that’s what gave them the lead in the beginning," Tiffany Hayes said when asked about the loss. "It put us in a hole so we had to try to fight back out of that hole. We just gotta learn to not put ourselves in a hole in the beginning. I think we could have won this game. Second half we started attacking. We came out with energy. We were getting to the hole, we were getting to the line, making our free throws. In the first half we weren’t doing that.”
The Dream return to Atlanta for their hope opener on Sunday against Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky.