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Dream vs. Sky series preview: Chicago aiming for first-ever playoff win against Atlanta

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With the Chicago Sky hardly being healthy this season, they're as unpredictable as the Atlanta Dream have normally been.

Photo by Getty Images.

The #1 Atlanta Dream begin their first round series against the #4 Chicago Sky in the 2014 WNBA Playoffs at 7:30 p.m. EST today on NBA TV.

Although the Dream have been the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference for some time, the Sky are a bit of a wild card because they simply haven't been healthy this season: they've played just two games at full strength this season as they've endured various types of absences from Jessica Breland, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince, and Courtney Vandersloot. With the majority of their rotation intact, the Sky finished the season by winning five of their final eight games to improve to a record of 15-19 that hardly reflects the talent they'll bring into the playoffs.

So after getting swept in the first round of the playoffs last year, can the Sky get their first playoff win this year at full strength?

Key statistical battleground: Rebounding

The Sky were understandably not particularly good at any one thing this season, but one area where we can probably expect them to compete with the Dream is on the boards.

Last season, the Sky led the league in both offensive rebounding percentage (30.5%) and second chance points (12.76 per game) - that was without Breland, rookie Markeisha Gatling, and Sasha Goodlett, three of their top five offensive rebounders this season. At full strength, they have the size, strength, and ability to theoretically compete with anyone on the boards. And that will be important against the Dream.

The Dream aren't tops in the league in offensive rebounding, but they have the best offensive rebounding percentage of anyone in the playoffs (32.5%) and did supplant the Sky as league leaders in second chance points (14.25 per game). Since the Dream had the lowest 3-point percentage in the league this season (30.3%) and aren't an otherwise efficient shooting team anyway, those second chance points are essential to their offense.

X-Factor: Courtney Vandersloot

Along those lines of finding ways to short-circuit the Dream's offense, keeping turnovers down will be essential for the Sky's hopes of winning.

The Dream led the East in points off turnovers (18.38 per game) and have a number of quick perimeter defenders to force turnovers, which they did at the highest rate in the league this season.

In Vandersloot's absence, rookie Jamierra Faulkner had standard growing pains with a very high turnover rate. With Vandersloot back, what turnovers the Sky had should be diminished. The question is simply how much: the scout on Vandersloot has always been to get physical with her and the Dream certainly have the personnel to do that.

Either way, with Vandersloot, Faulkner and Prince all able to play, the Sky have a number of a ball handling options to use, which is extremely valuable against the Dream.

Prediction: Sky def. Dream

Name

Winner

Games

Albert

Chicago

3

James

Atlanta

3

Kris H.

Chicago

3

Kris W.

Atlanta

3

Nate

Chicago

3

Pat

Chicago

3

The issue here is that the Sky are more than capable of taking away the Dream's strengths and making this a halfcourt game that depends on efficient offensive play to win.

However, James and Kris can't be accused of merely being homers here: as long as the Dream protect home court - and they had the best home record in the Eastern Conference this season (13-4) by a four-game margin - they can win this game. And as James commented, "Atlanta has driven to the Finals before, but it's never a smooth ride."

Either way, this could be the most competitive first round series if occasionally sloppy.

Schedule/TV broadcast info

Day

Date

Game

Away

Home

Time

National TV

Friday

08/22/14

1

#4 Chicago Sky

#1 Atlanta Dream

7:30 p.m.

NBA TV

Sunday

08/24/14

2

#1 Atlanta Dream

#4 Chicago Sky

7 p.m.

ESPN2

Tuesday

08/26/14

3 *

#4 Chicago Sky

#1 Atlanta Dream

7:30 p.m.

NBA TV