Dream ride roller coaster to playoffs

8/27/2010 - WNBA

Come along as we relive the Atlanta Dream's thrill ride of a season! In its third year, the franchise is one more victory over Washington away from being in the Eastern Conference finals. But, wow, has it been a crazy journey getting here.

Not at the start, though. Ah, the merry, merry month of May for the Dream. They begin with a six-game winning streak. Wheeee! This is so fun!

They've got the 2009 rookie of the year, Angel McCoughtry, in her second WNBA season and looking great. Coach Marynell Meadors raved about how McCoughtry improved her game and leadership skills in her overseas play.

They've got the inside tandem of Sancho Lyttle and Erika DeSouza, who had breakthrough seasons last year. There's guard/forward Iziane Castro Marques, whose bubbly off-court personality is countered by a lot of fire on the court.

How about Shalee Lehning? The gritty point guard, who missed the playoffs her rookie season after suffering a shoulder injury in the regular-season finale, was back.

Reunited are twins Coco and Kelly Miller, just like during their days at the University of Georgia. There's speedy guard Armintie Price in place as a very serviceable backup. Same goes for 6-foot-7 center Alison Bales, who was out of the WNBA for the 2009 season and was preparing for medical school, then realized she wasn't ready to leave basketball.

With such a good beginning to the season, there was reason to feel like the Dream really could win the East. Right?

Uh-oh! The calendar turned to June, and Atlanta began hitting some rough spots, starting in Seattle. Whoops! The Dream won just three of their next seven games. But guess what? Tulsa was coming to town!

Yippee! The Dream were flying again! They won four in a row and five of six heading into the All-Star Weekend, where McCoughtry competed with Team USA.

Three days before the "Stars at the Sun" game, the Dream scored their most points all season, 108, in beating Connecticut. They did this without starter Lyttle, who was briefly sent to dreamland -- not the good kind -- by Chicago center Sylvia Fowles' elbow in their lone loss in this stretch.

Lyttle had a concussion -- "When I fell, I could feel myself going out, and I was like, 'I hope I don't break anything,'" she said -- but at least there was a week until the Dream's next game. And, hey, they scored 108 points even without her, so it seemed Atlanta would be OK until she could play again.

Except … maybe not so much. They did miss Lyttle, especially with four in a row on the road. They fell by a basket at Minnesota, starting another four-game losing streak.

There were notable peaks and valleys for all the teams in the highly competitive East in 2010. But the Dream seemed to hit them even more than the others. You wondered if the Dream just couldn't make up their minds that they were a good team.

But then …

Yes! They were! Atlanta beat New York to start a four-game winning streak. As the calendar turned to August, the Dream topped defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana. Poised for a great finish?

Look out! Hold on! Unexpected tailspin! August turned into pretty much a wreck for the Dream, despite having six of eight games at home. They didn't just limp to the finish line, they crawled to it. They lost four in a row and six of their last seven. In that skid, they won at Chicago, then turned around three days later at home and lost to the Sky, who by that point were already eliminated from the playoffs.

Then with a last chance to get some positive momentum going into the playoffs, the Dream instead watched as visiting Washington beat them more thoroughly than the 90-81 score indicated. That gave the Mystics the No. 1 seed in the East, sending No. 4 Atlanta to D.C. for its playoff opener.

After a 4-30 inaugural season, at least the Dream had made the playoffs two years in a row. But, jeez, exactly what kind of team was headed into the postseason? Atlanta's 2-6 August was the worst of the four East playoff teams and gave the Dream no buzz as they faced the Mystics, who'd closed with six victories in a row.

After the previous slides this season, Atlanta had bounced back. But now, the Dream had to do so very quickly, because they were running out of time.

Or were they? Washington, with apparently all the momentum, got off to a slow start in Game 1. The Dream took control. McCoughtry had the kind of game, with 28 points and seven rebounds, that stars have when it matters most.

But here was the surprise: With sister Kelly out due to an ankle injury, Coco Miller -- who spent her first eight WNBA seasons with the Mystics -- burned her old team. In her first start of the season, she had 21 points as the Dream held off a Washington rally and won 95-90.

Just like that, Atlanta was back in charge again, headed home to try to close out the best-of-three series.

And that concludes your whirlwind ride through the Dream's season thus far. Please exit to the right and hold onto the railing, since you're probably a little queasy after all those changes in direction.

So how will the Dream play at home Friday, with a chance to make the East finals? Will they have the consistent, high-octane offense they showed in Washington on Wednesday and in several other games this year? Or will it be another night for a bad Dream?

The Atlanta players are confident they can win. They think they know exactly how they will perform. But you know what the rest of us have to think: Who knows?

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.