Dream opponents in Philips can hope, if not win

The WNBA’s visitors to Philips Arena can hope certain things go their way.

The Dream might play sloppily and turn the ball over. Perhaps Dream star Angel McCoughtry will have an off game. Maybe Atlanta will struggle to overcome the absence of veteran forward Sancho Lyttle.

But even if all those things fall in their favor, Atlanta’s opponents still will face swarming defense fueled by the home fans. And now the Dream gets Lyttle back, too, making the team with the league’s best record even tougher.

The Silver Stars were the latest foe to get overwhelmed by Atlanta’s defensive intensity. The Dream defeated San Antonio 93-67 on Sunday for their sixth consecutive victory, all without Lyttle, and improved to 7-0 at home and 10-1 overall.

Lyttle is scheduled to return from her stint with the Spanish national team before the Dream starts a four-game trip July 9 at Minnesota. She leads the Dream in rebounds and ranks second in points and blocked shots.

“Just to think, this is not even our full team,” Dream guard Tiffany Hayes said after scoring a team-high 19 points. “Sancho was a big part of our team and now that we are going to have her back, I feel like we are going to be an even better team. We need to keep pushing and pushing.”

Atlanta has thrived even without Lyttle by keeping up its defensive pressure. The Dream are the league’s best defensive team, tops in points allowed per game and steals and second in blocks and field-goal percentage allowed entering Sunday.

The Dream forced 22 San Antonio turnovers and scored 24 points off those miscues. Atlanta recorded 12 steals, blocked seven shot attempts and limited the Silver Stars to just 16 points in the paint.

“I’m pleased to see it all come together that way for our defense,” Dream coach and general manager Fred Williams said. “But at the offensive end, too, to have combination passes and everybody sharing the basketball. I felt we needed to come out at a faster pace than we did the past few games and up-tempo our defense.”

When the Dream weren’t getting easy chances in transition they were using crisp ball movement to set up good shots in the half court. Atlanta scored 20 fast-break points and recorded 25 assists on 36 field goals.

Hayes led six Dream players who scored in double figures. McCoughtry scored 15 points while making 6 of 8 shots and added nine assists, five rebounds and two steals.

San Antonio (3-7) never led. The Silver Stars tried to rally with 5 of 7 3-point shooting in the second quarter but Atlanta buried them with a 24-12 scoring advantage in the third period.

Dream rookie Alex Bentley missed a 3-point attempt in the second quarter to end her league record streak of makes at 10. Bentley broke Diana Taurasi’s record set in 2006.

Dream guard Anne Marie Armstrong, a rookie from the University of Georgia and Wesleyan, scored her first career points with a field goal in the fourth quarter.

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