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Sky is clear for Atlanta Dream

Elena Delle Donne is out, Atlanta has a good defense, and the Sky suck at giving up free throws. The Dream live.

Atlanta Dream vs. Chicago Sky preview Gary Dineen - Getty Images

Single elimination makes for unpredictable outcomes. Any team can get hot once; any team can hit a couple of bad shots; any team can do miracles once in a blue moon. Over a series, the best team is likely to win. But as the NCAA tournament has shown us, that is not always a guarantee.

Streaky, overachieving teams are the ones that you have to watch out for; those teams that go hot and cold at a moment’s notice. The Dream are such a team, in some ways.

They have outperformed their Pythagorean Expectation by nine percent, a significant margin. They’ve done so with a mostly putrid offense, relying heavily on free throws to generate points, and have played good-to-great defense on the other side of the court.

If this were a series, the Chicago Sky would be the odds-on favorite, with no doubt in my mind to whom would eventually walk away with the victory. The Dream pose a very specific, very direct threat to the Sky, for one simple reason: their best skill, drawing contact and shooting free throws, is one of the biggest areas of weakness for this Sky team.

Atlanta gets nearly 25% of their points from free throws, top in the league. They shot a little under 27 per game, and make a little over 20, also top in the league. The Sky give up the most free throws per game, both makes and attempts, putting them at a disadvantage.

Reducing fouls is not something that a team suddenly does after an entire regular season of not doing so, and that weakness is going to be hammered by this Dream team.

The defensive numbers, particularly the advanced stats, paint a rosy picture of Atlanta’s chances. Atlanta has the fourth-best defensive rating left in the playoffs, behind only the Lynx, Sparks, and Liberty, at 103.0. Their per game scoring defense numbers are on the lower end, but they also play at the fastest pace in the league, which explains the few extra points.

For the Sky, it’s their offensive numbers that rule the day. They have the second-best offensive rating in the league, only slightly behind the Minnesota Lynx, and have the fourth-best net rating (Offensive rating - defensive rating) as well. They score the most points in the league, as well.

The Atlanta offense really sucks, as does the Chicago defense. The question this matchup boils down to is whether you believe the good parts of Atlanta outweigh the bad parts of Chicago.

My instinct tells me (and, also, residual scarring from watching my Phoenix Suns teams of the mid to late 2000s lose in the plays [and also the tragedy of my New England Patriots losing in 2007 {there is a lot of scar tissue, leave me alone}]) that the defense would outweigh the offense.

If Elena Delle Donne were playing, I would call this a lock for Chicago; the team with the best player in the series almost always wins. However, she is out for this game, and though I suspect that Chicago will put up a really strong fight, I just can’t imagine the Sky beating this Atlanta team without such a valuable player.

The Sky, with Delle Donne, are who we thought they are; they hit their Pythag numbers almost exactly. But with the free throw stuff, plus a superb Atlanta defense, should be enough to send the Dream to the next round of the playoffs. It’ll be close, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Sky won, but Atlanta is clearly the better team, more complete team. It looks like the Dream have clear skies ahead.