The Atlanta Dream opens the 2015 WNBA season on tonight, June5, at 7:30 p.m. in Madison Square Garden against the New York Liberty.
ATLANTA—The Atlanta Dream’s six-year run from 2009-14 has included six straight playoff appearances and three trips to the WNBA Finals. They are the only WNBA team that has finished with a .500 record or better in each of the last six seasons.
Yet the Dream haven’t quite been able to reach the summit over that stretch, and the upcoming season will once again be all about capturing that elusive championship.
Here’s what to watch for in Atlanta this season:
The climb back up
It can be tempting to respond to the type of playoff loss Atlanta suffered last August by shaking up the roster.
The Dream were 8 minutes, 12 seconds of game time away from their fourth Eastern Conference Finals, holding a 17-point lead in a winner-take-all first-round Game 3. But that lead evaporated and their season ended on an Elena Delle Donne jumper with 8.4 seconds left.
The decision-makers in Atlanta showed faith in the veteran roster they’ve assembled by keeping the core in tact and gearing up for another run in 2015. The players surely have a bitter taste in their mouths as they enter the season in search of the franchise’s first title — and first Finals win, period, after being swept in each of the first three appearances.
McCoughtry chasing a ring
At 28 years old, Angel McCoughtry is an Olympic gold medalist, a former WNBA No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a two-time scoring champion.
Like the team she leads, however, the only item missing on her resume is a ring.
It will be fascinating to watch McCoughtry tailor her game to fit her team’s needs as she looks to round the Dream into championship form and potentially capture her first MVP award in the process.
Shoni-mania: Year 2
It didn’t take long for Shoni Schimmel to establish herself as one of the WNBA’s most popular and exciting players. As a Native American raised on a reservation in Oregon, the 8th overall pick in last year’s draft entered the league with a legion of followers, and her fan base only grew during a thrilling rookie season.
The highlight came at the All-Star Game in Phoenix, when “Showtime Shoni” poured in a record 29 points, including 7 three-pointers, en route to the MVP award.
Schimmel enters her second season as Atlanta’s starter next to McCoughtry, but she will have to earn minutes in a talented backcourt that added first-round pick Samantha Logic to a group that includes France native Celine Dumerc and the emerging Tiffany Hayes.
Showtime in Atlanta
Schimmel isn’t the only one bringing “Showtime” to the Peach State. Former Lakers champion Michael Cooper took the helm as the Dream’s head coach and helped take the team’s offense up another notch.
Atlanta played at the league’s fastest pace for the second straight year and finished fourth in the league with an average of 80.6 points per game. When Cooper left the bench while battling tongue cancer last season, the Dream’s 15-6 start quickly faded.
Year two of the Cooper era could see even more offensive firepower and, Atlanta hopes, more consistency.
What makes the Dream so dangerous is the All-Star supporting cast that surrounds McCoughtry. Veteran center Erika de Souza and forward Sancho Lyttle round out one of the league’s top starting fives.
The Big 3 of McCoughtry, Lyttle and de Souza have been together since the franchise’s second season in existence (2009), increasing the urgency to win now even more considering the latter two are approaching their mid-30s.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in NDNSports.com. Used with permission. All rights reserved.