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2014 WNBA Playoffs preview: Atlanta Dream in an unfamiliar position at the top

Despite familiar struggles, the Atlanta Dream enter the 2014 WNBA Playoffs in an unfamiliar position as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Photo by Getty Images.

As strange as it is given the number of times they've made it to the WNBA Finals, 2014 marks the first time the Atlanta Dream will enter the playoffs as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after winning the regular season title.

Yet in keeping with tradition, the Dream haven't made it easy on themselves.

Strengths: The post play

Erika de Souza probably has the best footwork in the post that I've seen.  I call her the "Beast from Brazil" but she can practically waltz up and around the basket.  Her bank shot is about as sweet a shot there is and when she doesn't want to be moved defensively, it's very hard to move her.

In addition, Sancho Lyttle has an excellent mid-range jumpshot and can extend that shot all the way to the elbow.  She's an excellent defensive player and both she and Erika make it very hard for opponents on either end of the court.

We know that Angel McCoughtry can put the box score on TILT when she's determined.  About rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel, I say, "When she's on the court things happen...not always GOOD things, but things happen." When she's hot and finding the open teammate, the Dream's transition game can put opponents on the wrong end of runs and teams napping can be blown to pieces.

Along with Lyttle, Aneika Henry and Tiffany Hayes are the Dream's most consistent players.  Even during the Dream's slide, these three were giving it their all.  Henry has definitely improved, at least for 2014.  Michael Cooper has the liberty of putting two point guards, Shoni Schimmel and Celine Dumerc, on the floor at the same time to change up looks.

Team weaknesses: Perimeter shooting

The Dream really don't have any great perimeter shooters.  Not only can they not shoot the three - they're 12th in the league - they don't defend it either.

They say that a point guard should be able to pass, to shoot, and to play defense.  Each of Atlanta's point-guards-by-committee can do two of those three things, but not all three, and each of them is missing a different component.  Sometimes, switching point guards covers up for the deficiency of the replacement, but sometimes it has a multiplying effect when the replacement is having an off night.

Remember when I said that when Schimmel is on the court, things happen, but not always good things?  That. Sometimes the ball ends up in the popcorn machine instead of in her target's hands.

MVP: Angel McCoughtry

Then there's McCoughtry.  When things get tough, she becomes a volume shooter and it becomes another game where she gets 30 points on 35 percent shooting and the Dream lose.  Her passing accuracy has dropped from what it was during the beginning of the season.  Remember that 11 turnover game?

It's her team in more ways than one.  Where McCoughtry goes, the Dream goes.

X-factor: Shoni Schimmel

It could be that she only has big games (like the All-Star Game) when opponents take a lax attitude toward defense, but it could also be that she has big games when there's a big crowd.  If the Dream end up playing in the West when Schimmel's traveling road crew shows up in the crowd, she'll want to give them - and everyone else - their money's worth.