That the Atlanta Dream lost 82-66 to the Seattle Storm Friday night might come as no big surprise, as the visitors to State Farm Arena are defending WNBA champions.
But a deeper dive may prompt concern.
Brittney Sykes scored all 12 of her points in the first half, but the Dream (1-1) trailed the Storm (2-1) 45-27 at intermission even though Seattle doesn’t have last year’s regular season and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart, nor future Hall of Fame guard Sue Bird.
Stewart’s right Achilles tendon was ruptured in April while she played in Russia, and Bird has a blown-out knee.
Yet Atlanta looked discombobulated Friday, when head coach Nikki Collen rued aloud the fact that the Dream fell to 0-3 dating back to last season when she wears her black jumpsuit on the sideline.
Atlanta played like a team that hadn’t taken the court in a week on the way to a huge halftime deficit. The Dream fouled frequently, turned the ball over eight times, and made just 11-of-37 shots before intermission, including a dreadful 2-of-14 3 pointers.
Seattle made 14-of-36 shots in that time, yet only turned the ball over three times and sank a whopping 15-of-18 free throws.
“That felt like more than a 16-point loss, I can tell you that. That’s for sure,” Collen said after the Dream made just 32.9 percent of their shots (24-of-73).
“You’d like to believe the team that’s had a week off is going to be the team that’s more prepared, and in some ways I think we were, but sometimes it’s just easier to play and kind of get in that rhythm of practice and then play.”
Seattle center/forward Natasha Howard was a nuisance. She had 13 of her game-high 19 points and seven of her 14 rebounds by the game’s halfway mark. She made 7-of-7 free throws before halftime.
That 18-point halftime deficit was far too great a divide for the Dream to bridge. Atlanta had no chance even though Stewart and Bird weren’t there.
The Dream raised eyebrows by getting blown out by an understaffed opponent, although it need be pointed out that Atlanta’s most accomplished player, Angel McCoughtry, is sidelined with a knee injury.
Sykes was dynamic over the first two quarters, working her way on the dribble to the goal and making 5-of-8 shots. She also nailed one of her two 3-point tries.
But all other Dream players combined to make 6-of-29 shots and 1-of-12 treys. “We weren’t in that flow,” Tiffany Hayes said after scoring nine points on 2-of-4 shooting.
It didn’t help that Hayes and forward Jessica Breland picked up three fouls each by the middle of the second quarter.
“It hurt us when Hayes and Breland got in foul trouble because when this team doesn’t make shots we know how to grind, but when you take your two all-league defenders out of the game you don’t grind as well,” Collen suggested.
Atlanta did not fall without putting up a fight.
The Dream chipped away in the third quarter, pulling to within 49-38 on Hayes’ steal/layup with 5:47 left in the period. After Hayes picked the pocket of Seattle guard Jewell Lloyd in the backcourt, Storm coach Dan Hughes called timeout.
Whatever he said seemed to work. Seattle scored the game’s next seven points, and the Dream never again pulled as close as 11 points.
The Dream won’t have much time to brood. On Saturday night, they’ll play the Mystics in Washington.
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