On Saturday evening at 7 p.m. ET, both the New York Liberty (7-8) and Atlanta Dream (5-8) will be aiming to avoid a three-game losing streak when they meet at Gateway Center Arena.
A good bit has changed since these two squads faced off in a late-May thriller, when Courtney Williams drilled the game winner. The Liberty were the toast of the league in May, riding a four-game winning streak when the Dream arrived in Brooklyn. Atlanta’s win over New York was their fourth in a row.
However, the Dream lost Chennedy Carter to an elbow injury that day. Her absence sapped Atlanta of its momentum, with the Dream going 1-6 with Carter out of the lineup. She returned Wednesday night, when the Dream dropped another game to the Minnesota Lynx, but Atlanta was without Tiffany Hayes, who suffered a MCL injury in the previous game and is expected to miss significant time.
New York’s loss to Atlanta kicked off a three-game slide. In their last five, contests they are 2-3. Sabrina Ionescu has been absent or limited for the majority of these games. The Dream organized their defense around stopping Ionescu, successfully stunting her scoring and playmaking. Since then, she has not scored in double figures, with a noticeable drop in her scoring aggressiveness.
Both teams need to rediscover their early-season groove. How might they do so?
While Atlanta will miss Hayes’ isolation attack, Carter also can provide consistent downhill penetration, which should be fruitful against New York’s poor paint defense. Carter scores 9.7 points in the paint per game, the highest mark among all guards. The Liberty allow a league-worst 39.5 points in the paint per game. Even if Carter fails to convert on her drives, Elizabeth Williams and Monique Billings (if healthy) will be there to clean things up. Powered by the pair, Atlanta leads the league with 10.7 offensive boards per game.
On defense, the Dream will feel Hayes’s absence, as she is the best matchup for Betnijah Laney. Whereas Atlanta directed their defensive energy and attention toward Ionescu in their first matchup, the Dream should prioritize pressuring Laney. As New York is suffering from a team-wide 3-point shooting slump, they are more dependent on Laney’s self-creation. While she still has managed to score efficiently, she is turnover prone. Atlanta’s hyper-aggressive defense has the potential to cause Laney to cough up the ball. But, if the Dream’s defensive discipline slips, the Liberty could take advantage for easy buckets, especially from Rebecca Allen. Allen is playing some of the best ball of her WNBA career by supplementing her shooting with timely drives and clever cuts to the hoop, in addition to some good defense.
On Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET on CBS, the Washington Mystics (7-7) finish up their three-game road trip against the Dallas Wings (7-8). The contest possibly presents an intriguing matchup between one of the league’s best young scorers in Arike Ogunbowale and one of the league’s best young defenders in Ariel Atkins, who is questionable to play because of back issues. As Atkins was named to Team USA while Ogunbowale was not, Ogunbowale might have some extra motivation to explode offensively. Atkins, however, also can unleash a scoring outburst. As the Wings’ post rotation of Satou Sabally, Kayla Thornton and Isabelle Harrison is capable of slowing Tina Charles, the still-shorthanded Mystics may need a hopefully healthy Atkins to assume more of the scoring load.
Dallas Wings (7-8) vs. Washington Mystics (7-7)
When: Saturday, June 26 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: College Park Center in Arlington, TX
How to watch: CBS
Key to the matchup: With Dallas taking early control against Indiana on Thursday, head coach Vickie Johnson gave No. 1 draft pick Charli Collier extended playing time. In a season-high 27 minutes, she scored a career-high 12 points, while also grabbing seven rebounds. With Tina Charles coming to town, Collier might not see as much court time. However, Collier’s skillset could be valuable against the Mystics’ (healthy) non-Charles bigs. With her athleticism, she has the potential to get out on the floor to contest Theresa Plaisance’s 3-pointers or shut down Megan Gustafson’s moves on the block.
Wings injury report: Satou Sabally (probable; Achilles), Marina Mabrey (probable; ankle)
Mystics injury report: Ariel Atkins (questionable; back), Kiara Leslie (questionable; concussion), Erica McCall (questionable; knee), Natasha Cloud (out; ankle), Myisha Hines-Allen (out; knee), Elena Delle Donne (out; back)
Highlight: Charli Collier schools the Fever with her ROY-worthy post moves
Atlanta Dream (5-8) vs. New York Liberty (7-8)
When: Saturday, June 26 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Gateway Center Arena in College Park, GA
How to watch: Bally Sports South, YES or SN360
Key to the matchup: While Charli Collier is capable of making a run for the Rookie of the Year award, the Liberty’s Michaela Onyenwere is the leader in the clubhouse. In the last Liberty-Dream game, she tallied a career-high 29 points, with six 3-pointers. However, she has mostly struggled since then, scoring in double figures only twice as her field goal percentage as dipped to 28.1 percent in the month of June. In New York’s Thursday blowout loss to Chicago, Onyenwere ended up with a respectable 16 points and six rebounds. But, it took her 17 shots to get those 16 points. Onyenwere not only needs to rediscover her scoring efficiency to secure the ROY, but, more importantly, to help the Liberty win ball games.
Dream injury report: Tiffany Hayes (out; knee)
Liberty injury report: Natasha Howard (out; knee), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)