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BY DAVID SCHIELE
Atlanta has a championship caliber team, and hardly anyone in the city knows it. I’m not talking about the young Braves lighting up scoreboards at the top of the National League East, or the loaded Falcons with a shot of making their second Super Bowl trip in three seasons while doing so in their own stadium.
I’m speaking about the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.
Ever hear of them?
This is huge: The Dream secured the second seed in the WNBA playoffs last Sunday under the league’s new and innovative format. Now the top two seeds receive a “double-bye,” meaning they skip the opening two rounds of the postseason and start in the semifinals, where it’s a best-of-five affair like the battle for the championship.
So, by simply having the second-best record in the regular season, the Dream are three victories away from making their fourth WNBA Finals since the franchise began in 2008. Which, by the way, would give the Dream four more trips to the ultimate round of a league’s playoffs than the Hawks, who have been an NBA team in Atlanta since 1968.
Unfortunately for the Dream, they’ve never won a WNBA Finals game despite all of those chances through the years. Actually, it’s worse than that. They were swept during each of their previous Finals appearances.
This time, things will be different.
For starters, Dream head coach Nicki Collen is the AP Coach of the Year despite just taking over the franchise. She provided fresh energy, and it translated into a Dream-record 23 victories during the regular season. They had an eight-game winning streak in July, in which they allowed only 75.8 points per game. Collen also led the Dream to victories over the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, the previous two WNBA champions.
Atlanta’s roster is loaded with a mix of young and experienced talent. Guard Tiffany Hayes had an MVP-worthy season, averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game. Forwards Elizabeth Williams and Renee Montgomery are stout defenders, and they showed as much by averaging nearly two blocks per game.
The news isn’t all splendid for the Dream, though. They’ll be without Angel McCoughtry since she tore ligaments in her knee in early August, and she is the team leader. Then again, the Dream won four of their last five games without the ninth-year forward along the way to taking 16 of their final 19 games overall. This sounds like a team of destiny, but I hear what you’re thinking.
Why wouldn’t everybody care?
Courtesy of the Dream, this has been the best basketball in town since the Hawks won an Eastern Conference-high 60 times for their 2014-15 season. It hasn’t mattered, because when you combine the disrespect for the WNBA among general sports fans with the league’s poor marketing, you have a lack of knowledge regarding the Dream’s potential.
And, hey, I get it. The Dream grabbing a WNBA championship won’t mean as much to the city as a Falcons Super Bowl victory in February inside of their own Mercedes-Benz Stadium or the Braves winning the World Series for only the second time during their Atlanta existence. But more than a few Atlanta citizens love professional basketball, and the rebuilding Hawks won’t even sniff a championship for the unforeseeable future.
That brings the city’s faithful regarding hoops back to the Dream, which officially starts their title hunt on Sunday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
You really should care.
David Schiele is a journalism major and an African American studies minor at Georgia State University, graduating in December. He’s the former sports director of GSU’s student TV station. In his free time, David watches pro wrestling, plays video games, and reads. Follow him on twitter @Deacon_Schiele