Dream made progress as they maneuvered through WNBA bubble

Dream guard Chennedy Carter celebrates after a play in a game against the Dallas Wings, Sunday, July 26, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

It’s an understatement to say that the Dream didn’t have an easy path through the 2020 WNBA regular season.

In the weeks before the season commenced in a bubble in Bradenton, Fla., veterans Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes opted out of playing. Immediately after arriving in Bradenton, two players — Kalani Brown and Glory Johnson — tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s initial quarantine period. A third player, Courtney Williams, tested positive for COVID-19 before joining the team in Florida and arrived late as a result.

“I’m not one to make excuses, but I think we were dealt one of the most difficult hands in the bubble,” Dream coach Nicki Collen said Thursday. “There were other teams that lost great players to opt-outs for a variety of reasons, but most of them knew that going in. I think the tough part for us wasn’t necessarily overcoming Tiffany and Renee opting out, it was dealing with COVID in the bubble and dealing with players coming late.”

And it wasn’t just dealing with positive COVID-19 tests early on that challenged the Dream. They arrived July 6 and spent 70 days in the bubble away from their friends and families. While some had an easier time with it than others, it was no easy task for anyone.

“It was tough,” Shekinna Stricklen said. “It was something different, this experience. It was different not having fans, not having family and support there. Being all in one location, having to see everybody from different teams to referees, it was tough.”

“Besides some initial woes (and) some logistical issues that we had, we made it work," Elizabeth Williams added. "I think we obviously knew this season was a sacrifice, and we knew things weren’t going to be perfect and we were going to be away from our families. We already kind of understood that, but as far as the other stuff, the practice, the games and the broadcast courts, I think it was fine.”

The Dream started the season with a 2-1 record, with wins over the Dallas Wings and the New York Liberty. Then they went on a 10-game losing streak — in a 22-game season. To put it lightly, things were shaping up as a long season for the Dream.

Four games into that losing streak, rookie point guard Chennedy Carter suffered an ankle injury early in a game against the Connecticut Sun. Carter missed six games and the Dream won just one game without her.

But despite the early struggles and despite having little chance at the playoffs by mid-August, the Dream stayed in the fight and finished with a 7-15 record, two games out of the race for the final spot in the playoffs.

Success early in the season always was going to be a question with 10 new players on the roster and limited practice time. The Dream essentially had to treat games as practice time early on while they played games every other day. By the end of the season, the work had paid off.

The Dream were 5-4 over their final nine games, including 4-2 in their last six, and were in contention for a playoff spot until the last weekend of the regular season.

“We were in 11 one-possession games,” Collen said. “We were competing. I think nobody wanted to play us at the end of the season. Coaches will tell you that. Sometimes they just say it. I actually believe it.”

At the end of the 2019 season, when the Dream finished 8-26 and last in the league, Collen knew she needed to reinvent her roster to generate more offense. Now, the pieces are in place and the necessary tweaks are much smaller.

Carter is a rising star in the WNBA and could be the Dream’s starting point guard for years to come. With other key pieces on the roster, as well as the potential return of Hayes and Montgomery in 2021, Collen is hopeful about the future of her team.

“In the midst of some difficult times, we also found some things out about ourselves that we can build on going forward,” Collen said. “... Now we’ve gotta build off that and be a better team at both ends of the floor and be a playoff team.”

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