It is still early but many of the changes the Atlanta Dream made this offseason are paying off. Atlanta improved to 5-1 with an 85-76 win over the Indiana Fever on Sunday behind another big game from Angel McCoughtry and an opportunistic defense that seems to be improving each time out.
“I thought it was a very good game," Dream head coach Michael Cooper said after the game. "We are slowly but surely getting our momentum. I think we did a good job to start the game strong especially with the first three or four game of the season starting in the hole. I thought we did a good job in Dallas and we are playing good but it’s early. With the format of the playoffs it is important that you win these games and that’s why we are 5-1.”
Four of Atlanta's six games this season have come on the road. They are 2-0 at home with their only loss coming at Indiana. They have one more road game before a four-game home stand that will feature some matchups against the league's heavyweight teams.
Their defensive transformation has been significant if you compare this team to last season's squad. The Dream currently have the fourth best defensive rating in the league allowing 93.6 points per 100 possessions. Atlanta finished ninth in defensive rating last season allowing 102.1. The Dream were dead last in opponents points per game last season and are fifth so far this season.
Six games is a small sample but it is a positive step for the Dream who hope to jump back into the playoff picture this season. The additions of Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon have helped solidify the defense on the inside and on the perimeter. Healthy starts by Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle certainly haven't hurt either.
McCoughtry is averaging 19 points and 5.5 rebounds over the first six games but is starting to round into shape after a somewhat slow start. However, her leadership on the defensive end of the floor has been a big part of the Dream's fast start.
“Defense. The biggest key to me is that Angel McCoughtry, one of the best players in this league, truly understands the concept of team and she is making the players around her better," Cooper answered when asked about the good start. "When you’re star player does that it not only gives them confidence but it makes it better for the whole team because she won’t have to carry that burden on her own. I coached a very skilled player early on in Lisa Leslie and one thing that we came to was that when you are a superstar later in your career you can do one of two things: you can get us to the top or take us over. You can’t do both and I think she realizes that so she’s helping us be where we want to be and ultimately we are playing for a championship.”
That hasn't always been the case for McCoughtry in the past so this is a good sign for the Dream who have reached the Finals but were never able to crash through. McCoughtry is a supremely confident player but was at times a disruption on and off the court. As she has gotten older, she has done a better job of becoming a leader.
“We have a great chemistry and the one thing that I’ve learned in my career is positivity," McCoughtry said. "I wasn’t a positive player earlier in my career but now I’m trying to enforce positivity whether we win or lose and if you have positivity nothing can get you down. That is a true heart of a champion.”
Time will tell if the Dream can sustain this start and whether they are talented enough overall to be a part of the championship conversation. Still for a team that was picked to finish in the bottom third of the league during the preseason, this 5-1 start is impressive.