THURSDAY CARDINAL COUPLE
( EIGHT TEAMS WILL BEGIN BATTLE STARTING TONIGHT TO
ADVANCE IN THE POST-SEASON WNBA PLAYOFFS. GARY WITHERSPOON
LOOKS AT ATLANTA'S QUEST TO RETURN TO THE
- Angel, Shoni and Atlanta “Limp” into the Playoffs
The Atlanta Dream begin their playoff run on Friday, August 22,
7 PM at home against the Chicago Sky on NBA TV. Even though the
Dream finished the season as the regular season champions of the
Eastern Conference and the only team in the Eastern Conference
with a winning record, there does not seem to be any reason
for confidence that the Dream will have a long playoff run.
It could be as short as two games, and it could last as long as
11 games. The WNBA starts with two out of three playoff series,
and Chicago is anything but a pushover.
For the first time during the whole season, Chicago has all of
their players ready to go for the playoffs. During the season,
they have missed All-Stars Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles
each for about half of the season, and starters Coutney Vandersloot
and Epiphanny Prince have also missed a substantial number of games.
In their places, Jessica Breland, Allie Quigley and Jamierra Faulkner have played
extremely well in both starting roles and roles off the bench, so the Sky are loaded and
ready to go for the playoffs. To add to the concern, even with an injury plagued season,
Chicago won two and lost two in their regular season series with the Dream, with each
team winning one and losing one on their home courts.
The Dream lost 11 out of their last 15 games, including getting
trounced by a young Connecticut team 84-55 in their last game of
the season on Sunday, August 17. The biggest issue seems to be
the play of their two big stars Angel McCoughtry (18.5 ppg) and
Erika de Souza (13.5 ppg). Until the latter part of the season,
this had been De Souza best season, but her points and rebounds have
taken a nose dive in the last 15 games.
Angel has averaged “only” 15.3 ppg over the last 10 games
of the season. Angel’s last outstanding game occurred just before
the Dream’s western swing when she scored 28 points against NY.
She started the western swing with19 against Phoenix, but she got
hurt in the second half and did not play well the rest of the trip.
After sitting out two games, Angel has started to play well in limited
time in their last two games.
After the All-Star game Shoni had an excellent 17
point OT effort at Minnesota in front of 4-5000 adoring Shoni
fans. Then she went through a series of four games in which she
never played more than15 minutes and scored a total of 7 points,
going scoreless in two of those games. Starting with the Dream’s
four game western swing in Phoenix where Shoni had somewhere
between 5-7000 fans, Shoni started a 6 game streak in which she
averaged 15.2 points a game, highlighted by a 24 point and 9
assists effort at home against Phoenix when Atlanta beat Phoenix
96-82 sparked by Shoni’s 20 point 2nd quarter outburst. Phoenix
finished the season with a WNBA record 29 wins in 34 games.
Shoni would have entered the playoffs on a roll except for a 9 point
performance at Connecticut in which she went 3-12.
As a new fan of the Dream, I have a lot of
apprehension about their playoff prospects based on their
recent performances, but older fans of the Dream indicate this is
par for the course and do not seem concerned. When you realize
that all four Eastern playoff teams enter the playoffs with a loss in
their last game, and Chicago (the Dream’s first opponent) enters
the playoffs with two losses, there is plenty of room for optimism
and pessimism. Apparently the veteran pro players can turn it on
whenthey need to do so. It might be relevant to note that the Dream
have lost to and defeated every team in the playoffs
in both conferences except for San Antonio with whom they won
both games in the season series.
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