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Game 1 Preview: Highly-anticipated No. 5 Dream vs. No. 4 Wings matchup kicks off in Dallas

The No. 5 seed Atlanta Dream have shown improvement from a year ago, though they went winless against their first-round playoff the opponent, the No. 4 seed Dallas Wings, during 2023 the regular season.

Dallas Wings v Atlanta Dream
All eyes will be on Atlanta Dream guard No. 10 Rhyne Howard (left) as she makes her playoff debut against the Dallas Wings.
Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The No. 5 seed Atlanta Dream (19-21 in the 2023 WNBA regular season) and No. 4 seed Dallas Wings (22-18) are WNBA franchises on the rise, making their matchup in the first round of the 2023 WNBA playoffs a compelling one. The first game of the best-of-three series will tipoff at 9:30 p.m. ET this Friday, Sep. 15, and there will be plenty of juicy storylines for fans to follow as they tune in on ESPN2.

How the Wings got here

The Wings are coming off their most successful season in years, winning at least 20 games for the first time since the late 2000s, when the team was located in Detroit. Under first-year head coach Latricia Trammell, the Wings are beginning to realize the potential they’ve alluded to since drafting explosive scoring guard Arike Ogunbowale in 2019.

Dallas’ winning percentage has increased in each season since then. And while Ogunbowale (21.2 points per game; fifth in the WNBA) remains a fixture of the franchise, the Wings’ overall identity as a team has changed from a squad of talented youngsters that could one day be one of the league’s best to an exciting, dynamic group that’s winning now. The growth of players like Satou Sabally—whose regular-season stat line of 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game makes her a favorite to win the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award—and Teaira McCowan (league-leading 3.5 offensive rebounds per game) has been paramount to the Wings’ success, and the addition of veteran Natasha Howard (16.5 points, eight rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game) has made Dallas a well-balanced team capable of scoring with the WNBA’s best.

Atlanta Dream v Dallas Wings
Arike Ogunbowale led the Wings in scoring against the Dream in the regular season, averaging 26.7 points per game.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

How the Dream got here

In a way, the Dream are in the same position the Wings were a couple of seasons ago. Making their first playoff appearance since 2018, Atlanta is building around Rhyne Howard, who has seemed destined for stardom since the Dream drafted her at No. 1 overall in last year’s draft. Meanwhile, Cheyenne Parker (15 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game) and former Wing Allisha Gray (17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game) both earned All-Star selections for the first time in 2023.

Keys to the matchup

The Dream didn’t have much luck against the Wings in the regular season, though. Dallas won all three matchups between the two teams, seemingly getting stronger as the season went on; the Wings opened the season with an 85-78 win over Atlanta in May, defeated the Dream again 85-73 in June and closed things out with a 94-77 victory just a few days ago.

Atlanta Dream v Dallas Wings
Allisha Gray was one of the steadiest perimeter players in the WNBA for years as a member of the Dallas Wings, and that’s continued in her first season in Atlanta.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Clearly, efficient offense must be a focus for the Dream, who played at the fastest pace in the WNBA (82.25 possessions per 40 minutes in the regular season) but ranked tenth in effective field goal percentage (47.5 percent). Parker and her teammates in the frontcourt will also need to bring their best effort on the glass; as a team, the Wings led the WNBA in offensive rebounding rate (36.9 percent) and second chance points (14.8 per game), thanks largely to McCowan and backup center Kalani Brown’s size at 6-foot-7 but also to the athleticism of forwards Sabally and Howard.

Game information

No. 5 seed Atlanta Dream (0-0) vs. No. 4 seed Dallas Wings (0-0)

When: Friday, Sep. 15 at 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: College Park Center in Arlington, TX

How to watch: ESPN2

Dream injury report: Nia Coffey (out; hand)

Wings injury report: Lou Lopez Sénéchal (out; knee), Diamond DeShields (out; knee)