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Hoops Happening: Why Atlanta should still be a favorite to win the WNBA Finals

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Angel McCoughtry suffered a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday, but that did not quell Atlanta’s championship dreams. Plus, more on ESPN’s misogyny, links and more. This is today in women’s basketball for Friday August 10, 2018!

Angel McCoughtry was forced to watch from the sideline but she did it in style.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Injuries are the worst part of sports. But seeing nine-year WNBA veteran Angel McCoughtry being helped off the court by her Atlanta Dream teammates on Tuesday against the Las Vegas Aces was a special kind of kick in the gut. McCoughtry sat out the 2017 season to get her injuries healed and her body right; she used the time away from the game to open an ice cream shop.

She returned in solid form, producing for her team in the ballpark of her career averages, including a career-best 39 points in June against the New York Liberty. This season, McCoughtry earned All-Star and Player of the Week honors and moved into the top 10 on the WNBA’s all-time steals list.

The injury was diagnosed as ligament tears, forcing an end to her commanding comeback season. Through her disappointment, McCoughtry revealed more of her character, and why Atlanta Dream Head Coach Nicki Collen considers McCoughtry “a good leader and great teammate.”

And McCoughtry’s appearance along the sideline at the very next game, plus the statement she issued after ruled out for the season, further proved the point:

“I want to thank all the fans, my coaching staff and teammates for giving me the chance to come back and play for the Dream this season. I am disappointed with the injury but I believe our team is in good hands. We have a supportive group and a lot of goals to still accomplish. I plan to be there every step of the way to help us reach them. I appreciate everyone and know I will come back stronger than ever.”

The endless supply of delectable ice cream treats may have something to do with McCoughtry’s ability to stay on a cloud of dreamy optimism, but it’s more likely that the positive outlook is driven by laser-like focus on the shared task at hand: helping the Dream to win the 2018 WNBA Championship through whatever role with the team she happens to occupy. For the remainder of the season, those roles include sideline coach, cheerleader, veteran leader.

Atlanta’s postseason chances

Any team is better with Angel McCoughtry on the court. Without her, however, other players will simply have to step up in play-making, scoring and defensive energy. Lucky for Coach Collen, her Atlanta Dream team is end-of-the-bench deep with players who can do that on any given night. (Of course, it’s not really luck at all.*)

In last night’s win against the Sparks (McCoughtry’s first from the sideline since being ruled done for the season), it was Jessica Breland who came up big for the Atlanta, with 19 points and 9 rebounds for a near double-double.

On August 7 against the Aces, it was Elizabeth Williams and Alex Bentley dropping 22 points each, and Bentley did it coming off the bench.

Against the Minnesota Lynx on August 5, usual high scorer and three-time Player of the Week Tiffany Hayes put in 28 points, but Bentley contributed another 19 points off the bench for a commanding 20-point Dream win over the reigning champion Lynx.

In McCoughtry’s lowest scoring game of the season — 5 points against the New York Liberty on July 19 — Atlanta got the 82-68 victory thanks to a game-high 24 points from Renee Montgomery. And the only double-digit scorer for New York in that game was Tina Charles, who was held to 11 points. And, why? Atlanta’s top-tier defense which has given teams fits all season.

Atlanta is second in the standings: 2.5 games behind the Seattle Storm and 1 game in front of the Washington Mystics. No matter what the playoff seeding turns out to be, a look at key completed season series to date highlights that any team hungry for a championship trophy will have to go through Atlanta to get it:

  • Atlanta won season series against the Storm, 2-1
  • Atlanta won season series against the Mystics, 2-1
  • Atlanta won season series against the Sparks, 2-1
  • Atlanta swept season series against the Sun, 3-0
  • Atlanta won season series against the reigning champ Lynx, 2-1

From the initial shocking upset of the Lynx early in the season, the Dream has demonstrated an ability to win on the back of any given player against any given team and this will be no different in the postseason, whether McCoughtry is in the lineup or out of it. McCoughtry, Brittney Sykes and Hayes all missed time this season with injuries, and the Dream still sit on a second-best 20-10 record for the season.

*The depth of this team not only gives the Dream the best chance to win it all, it means Coach Collen should be considered the top candidate for Coach of the Year as well.


Last night in the league

The Mystics calmed the Storm in lunchtime action, and in WNBA Thursday night games, the Dream got the series win over the Sparks without Angel McCoughtry, and Maya Moore and the Lynx handed the Aces their fifth-straight loss. Here’s the recap from Albert Lee.


Next up on the court

There are two games on the schedule for Friday night basketball, with everyone’s sights set on securing the best seeding possible for the playoffs and working out the kinks before the postseason begins. Stay tuned for previews!


Where things stand

Seven playoff spots have been decided, with the Dallas Wings clinging to eight and the Las Vegas Aces hoping for a miracle.


Scorching the status quo

The Washington Post’s Kevin Blackistone examines the myriad ways WNBA players are treated like second-class citizens in reporting that:

  1. outlines the history of inequitable treatment by the NBA towards the WNBA
  2. holds a magnifying glass to the NBA’s hypocrisy when it comes to supporting NBA players in their social-justice pursuits while continuing to disenfranchise the female basketball players it employs
  3. puts the responsibility for change squarely on the shoulders of the NBA

In other news ...

ESPN continues to prioritize fringe sports over the WNBA:

  • ESPN continues to feature cornhole, thereby, building its popularity and developing its legitimacy. Think they might do the same for the WNBA? * a thousand eyerolls *
  • ESPN features a step-by-step guide to lightsaber rather than any guide to the WNBA Playoffs in arguably the tightest race in the league’s history. * file to: Normalized Sexism and 1,000 A-Okay Emojis *
  • ESPN drew the ire of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Erica Vanstone, their interim director, issued a pointed open letter to ESPN about their commitment to marginalizing women’s sports. Yes, #DoBetterESPN.
  • On the ESPN website, WNBA has fallen in the bread crumb menu to 23rd, after the likes of several sports not even in season and other crap no one cares about. * file to: Basic Misogyny and Obvious Suppression That Must Destroyed *

Also:


Drink up, link lush!

A Friday night in Atlanta just got sweeter

Elsewhere:


How to #WatchThemWork all season


Shine brighter. * flicker flicker *