On defense, Bentley and Billings
DECATUR, Ga. – The Dream hasn’t looked like a team known for its defense through its first four games.
The team is trying to get back to that, focusing its first practice following its third-straight blow-out loss on defense, communication and, essentially, playing like themselves, according to assistant coach Darius Taylor.
“Teams last year feared us because of our defensive intensity and how we’ve disrupted people and really just made it hard to get in a flow of an offense,” Taylor told High Post Hoops after practice. “The previous games, we’ve allowed missed shots to affect our energy on the defensive end. We have to create offense from our defense. But also energy from our defense. We’ll eventually start making shots, the percentages will catch up.”
Early on vs. the Aces, the Dream dealt with “rimgivitis.” That’s what veteran Renee Montgomery calls it when good shots go into the rim and bounce back out, for no other reason than just because. Atlanta is shooting an average of 37 percent from the floor and 24 percent from three.
And as much as the team misses Angel McCoughtry offensively, the struggles to start the season aren’t solely due to her absence.
“We do miss cuzzo (McCoughtry). I mean, cuzzo is an all-star, 20 points per game. We’re getting beat by 30, we would really love those 20 points,” she said. “But there’s more than that. If we were playing even close to the defense were playing last year, the score wouldn’t be what it is. Last year we were having offensive woes where we weren’t shooting the ball great, but we were still trying to keep themselves in the game with our defense. This year our defense is not keeping (us) in the game.”
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The energy of the practice seemed subdued compared to other Dream practices. There were of course miscues and missed shots similar to games – that won’t change overnight – but the left wing and corner seemed to be good spots from three for Nia Coffey, Haley Peters and Maite Cazorla toward the end of the scrimmage.
“I think now we now we have to lock in, make sure we’re communicating, over communicating, just doing all the little things to get back to defensive team that we know we can be,” Montgomery said. “I love practices like that where it’s competitive, it’s cutthroat and everybody’s going hard at everybody. As of right now, I feel good.”
As Brittney Sykes passed to leave the gym, Montgomery stopped her for a fist-bump, “Slime, killed it today. Seriously. Killed it today.”
Atlanta (1-3) hosts Connecticut (4-1) on Sunday in State Farm Arena at 3 p.m.
“Sometimes I’m ignorantly optimistic, and I always think that things are going to work out well,” Montgomery said. “We’re in the beginning of the season, and I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”
Alex Bentley’s timeline for EuroBasket
Alex Bentley is not completely sure when her last game is with the Dream before heading to compete in FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament for Belarus.
“I’m just letting my agent handle it right now,” Bentley said.
The group phase of the tournament begins on June 27. Bentley says the earliest she’d return is July 2 and the latest date would be July 7. Belarus is in Group D with Russia, Belgium and Serbia.
Completely estimating, Bentley could leave anytime between Atlanta’s visit to Dallas on June 15 and the Dream’s home game vs. the Fever on June 19. At the very latest, Bentley could travel to the Sun on June 21. But that seems unlikely. If her last game was June 19 and her team made it to the medal round of EuroBasket, she’d miss six games.
Currently, rookie Maite Cazorla is slated to serve as backup point guard in Bentley’s absence. Cazorla has seemed confident on the floor in the minutes she’s seen, and doesn’t seem rattled or unable to handle the physicality of the league thus far. The one thing the Dream seem to be actively working on with her on is being vocal.
“As point guards, me and Renee, we’re always talking. You’re always going to hear our voices,” Bentley said. “Playing the point guard your rookie year and coming into the WNBA your first year, it’s the hardest position to get a grasp of, but she’s playing well. That’s awesome for us.”
People were asking about Monique Billings, who did not play vs. the Aces on Thursday. She rode the stationary bike during portions of the pregame warmups and was listed as questionable on the injury report.
She practiced on Friday and says she’s fine.
“It’s just a little bruise,” she said.
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