Questions emerge after bad start
ATLANTA — Forty-five minutes after the Dream dropped a 23-point loss to the Las Vegas Aces, 92-69, head coach Nicki Collen, Nia Coffey and Alex Bentley joined the media for the postgame press conference.
“We’re just pissed,” Bentley said following a question about how the players felt about the start of the season. “We’re tired of losing. Everybody’s tired of losing.”
The Dream (1-3) have been blown out in three straight games, following a season-opening comeback win over Dallas. Simply put, the Dream look off. There hasn’t been a point where the team has looked like the 2018 Eastern Conference champions, or a team that made it to the semifinals of the 2018 WNBA playoffs.
The team as a whole seems to be lacking chemistry, effectiveness and a certain sharpness expected from them.
So the struggles don’t all have to do with missing Angel McCoughtry (though obviously everyone would rather have her on the court than not), given that the starting five for the first three games remained the same from the closing games of the 2018 season. And of course, Tiffany Hayes’ lingering ankle injury doesn’t help the team, either. In addition to the on-the-court issues listed below, there’s almost something intangible holding the Dream back through four games.
“In some ways, we have to get out of our own way a little bit,” Collen said. “Coming off a year where we exceed expectations, and then had most of our roster back. I think we knew this team could be good, and I really believe that 100 percent, but maybe thought it was gonna be too easy. And so I think we’ve lost some of our principles. The second half of the year we were really good offensively, and I think it hasn’t carried (over).”
Through four games, the Dream is shooting an average of 37 percent from the floor and 24 percent from three. Atlanta is missing wide-open shots and layups, overall just struggling to get the ball through the net.
Against the Aces, the Dream won the opening tip, and in the first possession, Nia Coffey missed a wide open three. Hayes followed that up with an offensive rebound, and once the ball made it back to her, she also missed a wide-open three.
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The Dream scored its first points of the game at the 5:58 mark in the first quarter and didn’t score again until the clock reached 3:58. By that point, Las Vegas was up 19-5.
That was theme of the first quarter, the game vs. the Aces and the first four games of the 2019 season.
“We can make shots. And we’re just not,” Collen said. “I think at times we’re frustrated by that and letting that affect our ability to sit down and guard and get rebounds, and do some of the little things.”
The frustrations from the lack of scoring, especially to start the game, especially with the ball going in and out of the rim or missing it completely, is visible.
Following the game, Collen said the team spoke at length – hence the 45-minute wait for a press conference – and while she wouldn’t give specifics, said part of the conversation about moving forward past this rough start to the season was getting over the mental hump as well.
“The point was we just have to keep battling together and we can’t get frustrated, that frustration is in some ways and inward, selfish emotion that we just have to we have to give out,” Collen said. “When we’re not playing well, we have to lift somebody else up. I’m excited to see the conversation we just had, where it takes us. Because it was very real, obviously emotional. I just think we have the right pieces to win games in this league.”
Their offense will open up when they start hitting shots, Collen says. If not, teams are going to take a cue from Vegas, and clog the paint, leaving Atlanta open to take a shots that they believe they’ll miss.
“You’re not making shots, so they leave you alone and all of sudden you’re even more open,” Collen said. “You could be in the gym shooting by yourself, some of the shots we’re missing right now.”
Another concern during this 1-3 start is that a team with the defensive identity it had last year is struggling on that end of the floor as well.
Collen said one the biggest concerns vs. the Aces was allowing second and third chances, and not closing out possessions with a rebound or block out. Even Dallas outrebounded the Dream 42 to 31, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds to Atlanta’s eight.
“We had some scouting report errors early, but we’re obviously not huge. So we have to truly understand where we can bring help up at times when we’re facing big players,” Collen said. “It starts with game plan. It’s effort based. It’s rotation based. And then it’s finishing possessions. And we haven’t done a great job of finishing possessions.”
Brittney Sykes is fine after she seemed to tweak her ankle in the second quarter. Though it looked really painful, played through the rest of the game, finishing with 15 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Monique Billings did not play vs. the Aces, and was listed as questionable due to an apparent hip injury.
Following the game, the team gathered at midcourt before heading to the locker room, something the team may have been doing but was even more noticeable Thursday night.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Dream, a close-knit team known for how much they love playing together, moves forward following a terrible start.
“It’s stretches like this where you can’t look in the mirror and figure out what do I have to do. I know what I gotta do. There’s good people in my locker room. And so, nobody’s happy right now,” Collen said. “The biggest adjustments is us looking inward and saying, ‘what are those non-basketball related, in some ways, things that we can do to continue to build off of this.”
Bentley echoed the sentiment.
“We’re going to stay positive, look in the mirror and figure out what each of us can do for our team, to give for our team, to play for each other,” she said.
Atlanta hosts Connecticut on Sunday at 3 p.m.
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