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Mercury Dream of a cliché free top spot

Too easy? I know, but what can you do. The Dream just lends itself to so many clichés. But lets move past that and focus on what promises to be a good game. Or at least a meaningful game.

The Mercury currently hold a 2 game lead over the Seattle Storm and with only three games left for both teams can clinch the top spot in the West and home court advantage through the Western Conference finals. All it will take is a Mercury win vs the Dream combined with a loss by the Storm to the Minnesota Lynx to lock up the West.

Baring that combination, the Mercury will head to Seattle on Thursday for a final Western Conference showdown. While the Merc can't control what happens to the Storm in Minnesota on Saturday night, they certainly can dictate the storyline coming out of Phoenix.

That brings us to the Atlanta Dream.

In Atlanta's second season as a WNBA franchise they've gone from a 4 - 30 basement dweller to one of the deepest and best balanced teams in the East. They hold a 17-14 record over all and are right in the mix to secure the second seed in the East.

The Dream have been hot of late with a big win in LA recently and a 2-0 record against San Antonio. At the same time they are inexplicably 1-6 against the Chicago Sky and the NY Liberty - two teams with unimpressive rosters and even less impressive records.

Atlanta dealt the Mercury their worst defeat (at least numbers-wise) of the season during the five game road trip following the all star break. I don't take too much from that loss given that it came during a stretch where the Mercury were playing some of their best ball. They bounced back from that humiliation to win on the road in Minnesota and Seattle.

The Dream come in to Phoenix fresh off a win Friday night in Sacramento where they put up 98 points.

With 4 of their 5 starters logging big minutes and playing the final game of a five game road trip, there's a good chance they will be a tired team come Saturday night. The Mercury can't count on that though and need to finally find their rhythm and consistency as the season winds down. The time to start peaking is now.

If I had to put money on it right now, I would say that this is the team that the Mercury would most likely be facing if they can make it to the Finals. Time to put the hammer down and send the Dream home without any confidence that they have an edge over the Mercury.

The Dream bring with them the #1 draft pick out of Louisville who recently ranked as the leader in the ROY race overtaking the Mercury's own DeWanna Bonner. Angel McCoughtry is a 6'1" small forward who can flat out score the ball and also brings a defensive toughness to her game. 

McCoughtry will likely start in place of the injured Chamique Holdsclaw who is not traveling with the team due to a knee injury. That will leave the assignment of slowing down the rookie to none other than Diana Taurasi who is not likely to let a youngster get the better of her. That should be a fun match up for years to come.

Because the Mercury only face Eastern Conference teams twice and because that game was such a blowout that it wasn't worth watching and because this team is completely different then last year's, there's very little that I know about the Dream. So in true internet sports fashion I called on an expert for scouting report.

Petrel of the fantastic blog Pleasant Dreams answered some questions regarding his team. Big thanks to Pet for the insight on this Atlanta team.

1) I've heard from a few people that the Dream really are the best team in the East, record notwithstanding. Do you agree?

That's a tough one.  As long as Katie Douglas sits on the bench in Indianapolis with a sore ankle, I think we are; without that, I'm not so sure.

The thing about the Eastern Conference is that everyone (except Indiana) has a weakness.  Atlanta has no perimeter game and our coaching...well....  The Liberty has been a mess all year.  Connecticut just lost Asjha Jones.  Coleman cooled off in Washington, and now Beard is hurt.  The Sky tend to tank when they fall behind.

If there's any team I'm worried about, it's the Shock.  The Shock have woke up and might sneak into the playoffs, and I wouldn't want to play them in the opening round.  I suspect that Rick Mahorn is a better coach than people suspect, and Detroit is great in the post-season.

2) The Dream just picked up a big win in LA. How do you think your team stacks up against the "best in the west"?

Oddly, we've beaten every team in the West at least one time.  We're playing at least .500 ball against the best of the Western Conference, but I don't have much confidence that we can beat Phoenix at the butt end of a back-to-back in Phoenix.  We beat LA at the Staples center and we're 7-3 against the entire Western Conference.

I think the Dream really do stack up.  The Dream have been playing better and better ball as the season has progressed.

What's really amazing about Atlanta is that they have five players who have the potential to have massive games on any particular night - Holdsclaw (when healthy), Castro Marques, Lyttle, de Souza and McCoughtry.  If two are more of those players are on, watch out.  Furthermore, each bring a variety of tools - Holdsclaw and Castro Marques are shooters, and The Claw can also rebound. Lyttle and de Souza are strong in the paint and McCoughtry adds defensive intensity to her offensive power.  The odd thing is that we lucked into having both Holdsclaw and Lyttle on the team.

Furthermore, we've been protecting the ball better and doing many things well.  Shalee Lehning has developed better than I would have predicted after her first few games - I don't think she'll be a superstar but she should have a career of some strength.  Michelle Snow is having an off year, but you see flashes of the old Snow.  Latta can have a 20+ point game every once in a while. 

3) Angel McCoughtry has come on strong winning rookie of the month for the last two months. Has she done enough to overtake Bonner for ROY?

Angel McCoughtry has won Rookie of the Month twice, so I think I know how the WNBA is leaning.  In the last match-up with the Mercury I think she had 17 points compared to Bonner's eight. I don't think we're going to beat the Mercury on Saturday, though, you don't beat teams as good as Phoenix twice.

From what I've seen, McCoughtry is the better defender.  McCoughtry will just poke at players, break up passes, and come from behind. I've seen her do some amazing stuff defensively.  However, Bonner doesn't foul or turn the ball over as often as McCoughtry.  McCoughtry is one of those "put the game on my back" players with all the bonuses that brings, as well as all the problems. I would give it to McCoughtry right now over Bonner...but you could say that I'm a bit biased.

4) The Dream have overtaken the Lynx for the second highest scoring average and also are the 2nd best shooting % team in the league and yet the team doesn't shoot the three very well (31%). Is this a high tempo offense that gets points from the wings or a high efficiency team that get's points in the paint?

Marynell Meadors recently said that the Dream don't hit a lot of threes, but they do a great job of hitting a lot of twos.  Atlanta's strategy seems to be for Lehning to hand off the ball after she gets it and have either Holdsclaw/McCoughtry drive or Castro Marques shoot.  If the attempt fails, either Lyttle or de Souza will put the ball back in.

We get our points in the paint.  Other teams have said that Atlanta has to be pushed off the boards in order to win.  Sometimes, I feel that Lyttle and de Souza simply intimidate other teams and scare them off.  But our three point game has been weak all year.  Meadors didn't feel Nikki Teasley was the solution and was forced to bring Ivory Latta back to Atlanta.

Furthermore, at least at the beginning of the year, the Dream did a poor job of guarding perimeter shooters.  Too many times, I've seen someone take a 3-pointer against the Dream uncovered, all alone behind the arc, the Atlanta defender lost somewhere in the crowd. Our perimeter game has been sorry all year.  If a team is having even a better-than-average 3-point night, it really hurts Atlanta.

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