Eighteen years after Dream coach Tanisha Wright made her first playoff appearance as a rookie with Seattle, she has led the Dream to their best regular-season finish and first trip to the playoffs since 2018.
“It was an anticipation, it was a nervousness,” Wright said. “You know you’re in the playoffs, but that’s just part of it. There’s nerves. There’s always going to be a little bit of nerves, I think, because the stakes are a little bit different. You’re in a position to now be set for a championship once you get to the playoffs.”
The fifth-seeded Dream (19-21) will face the fourth-seeded Dallas Wings (22-18) on the road in the first round. The best-of-three WNBA playoffs series will begin in Dallas on Friday with a 9:30 p.m. EDT tipoff.
On Sunday, the Dream concluded the regular season with a 94-77 home loss to Dallas to bring its season record to 0-3 against the Wings.
All-Stars Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally have led the charge for Dallas this season, averaging 21.2 and 18.6 points per game, respectively. They will likely prove to again be a challenge for the Dream’s defense. Ogunbowale finished with 32 points, six assists and four rebounds in Sunday’s win.
While they try to defend Ogunbowale and Dallas’ powerful front court, the Dream will need speed and scoring from 2022 Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard on the other end. In only her second season in the league, Howard led the Dream in scoring, recording a team-high average of 17.5 points while adding 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
The two-time All-Star has joined forces this season with former Dallas guard Allisha Gray, who joined the Dream in January after requesting a trade from the Wings at the conclusion of last season. Gray will return to Dallas to face her former team alongside the Dream’s assistant coach Vickie Johnson, who served as head coach for the Wings from 2021-22.
In addition to Howard and Gray, second-year forward Naz Hillmon could also be an X-factor for the Dream. Gray has found an increased role as a leader for the Dream at just the right time, according to her coach.
“Naz’s energy changed the last few weeks and just her voice, her leadership, her intensity, her energy, I think it was really contagious for the rest of the group,” Wright said.
Dallas will host the first two games with the possibility of the Dream returning to the Gateway Center Arena at College Park on Sept. 22 to play a winner-takes-all Game 3 on its home court, if necessary.
Brigette Ramirez is a student in the Carmical Sports Media Institute at the University of Georgia.