Monday, May 31, 2010

Atlanta vs. Seattle, Tuesday June 1

Who: The Atlanta Dream (6-0) take on the Seattle Storm (5-1) in an interconference game.

The Dream are led by Angel McCoughtry, who is scoring 24.0 points per game. Sancho Lyttle (15.3 ppg/10.5 rpg) and Erika de Souza (13.5 ppg/11.0 rpg) are averaging a double-double per game for Atlanta. Seattle has Lauren Jackson who is scoring 20.3 points per game. Sue Bird is scoring 10.2 points per game and averaging 6.5 assists per game.

What: The first of two regular season games against the Seattle Storm. Atlanta is 1-3 all-time versus the Storm. The two teams split the difference last year, each winning at home. The second of those two games was a 91-84 double overtime loss at Key Arena in Seattle on August 29 where the Storm scored 11 points in the second overtime period.

Where: Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.

When: Tipoff is at at 9:30 pm Eastern time, Tuesday, June 1st. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

Why: As the league begins its second month of play, the WNBA brass couldn't have designed it better. The top team in the Eastern Conference and the top team in the Western Conference play on national television. The winner of this game becomes the early season favorite to win it all.

Atlanta is coming off six straight wins. Every team that has started the season with at least six straight wins in the 13-plus years of the WNBA has gone to the WNBA Finals - and with the way the Dream are playing, one can't blame the schedule or some other statistical aberration. The Dream are winning games by nine points per game, their 86.8 points per game is second only behind the Mercury, which has the same running, gunning style. But the biggest difference is in rebound differential. The Dream average 41.6 rebounds per game and their opponents only average 32.5 rebounds per game. The Dream run, but they also muscle, and Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza are deadly in the post.

The Storm, on the other hand, are no slouches. The Dream might win by 9.2 points per game, but the Storm are right behind them with an 8.0 points per game differential between the Storm and their opponents. The Dream might have early MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry, but the Storm have three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, a more all-around player than McCoughtry. The 29-year old Jackson is at the peak of her career, and her 20.3 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game aren't far off her career averages.

Both teams, furthermore, are deeper than just one or two marquee players. Camille Little is playing like a Top Ten player this season, averaging almost four more points a game than her career average. (Every year, Little's points per game have increased - she's shooting 45 percent from the field and averaging 11.2 points per game this year.) Tanisha Wright has similarly blossomed over her last two years. Alison Bales of the Dream might be the Sixth Woman of the Year. After taking a year off, she seems to have recovered both her shooting and her enthusiasm.

Can the Dream advance to 7-0? It will be difficult. Not only are the Storm a good team, not only are the Dream ending a four-game road trip but Seattle's Key Arena is mentioned by many players as the toughest place in the WNBA in which to play: the fans might be the most spirited fans in the WNBA. The Dream could lose, but if they win - they will be wearing the title of Team to Beat for the rest of 2010.

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