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WNBA Playoff Preview: Storm at Dream

Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire

The Atlanta Dream and Seattle Storm will meet in the first round of the WNBA playoffs Wednesday at 8pm EST at McCamish Pavilion on the campus of Georgia Tech. The game will be broadcast on ESPNews and will also be available on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN App.

Both teams struggled in the past two seasons with Atlanta being eliminated in the first round two years ago and missing the playoffs last year, while Seattle has been on the outside of the playoffs looking in for both 2014 and 2015. The two franchises have long histories of success with the two teams colliding in the 2010 finals, a series in which the Storm emerged victorious. With the Dream and Storm both on the rise, it seems only fitting that they’ll go head-to-head in this first round, single elimination playoff. Here’s a preview of what to expect.

Season series: Seattle won 2-1

How they matchup – Starting Five

Position Dream Storm Edge
Point Guard

Layshia Clarendon

Sue Bird Storm
Shooting Guard Bria Holmes Jewell Loyd Storm
Small Forward Angel McCoughtry Alysha Clark Dream
Power Forward Sancho Lyttle Crystal Langhorne ???
Center Elizabeth Williams Breanna Stewart  Storm

Both the Dream and Storm feature a plethora of young and athletic talent and are anchored by veteran superstars who know what it takes to win in the playoffs. When you go position by position, however, it soon becomes clear that Seattle has an edge at nearly every position, especially with the loss of Tiffany Hayes due to suspension for receiving her seventh technical in the regular season finale.

The biggest deciding factor will be the availability of Sancho Lyttle who has been hampered by foot injuries this season. If she is able to play and do so at the elite level she’s capable of, then the Dream would have the advantage at both forward positions. Add in Elizabeth Williams’ low-post capabilities and the matchup of the starting lineups is very much up for grabs.

If Lyttle is unable to compete, the Storm have a legitimate chance to run away with the game, especially if Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd click on offense like they have been for most of the season. In that case, Atlanta will have to rely heavily on their resident superstar Angel McCoughtry to secure the victory.

Edge: Storm

How They Matchup – Reserves
(In Order Of Minutes Per Game)

Dream Storm
Carla Cortijo, Guard Noelle Quinn, Guard/Forward

Matee Ajavon, Guard

Ramu Tokashiki, Power Forward
Markeisha Gatling, Center Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Small Forward
Reshanda Gray, Power Forward Jenna O’Hea, Guard/Forward
Rachel Hollivay, Center Krystal Thomas, Center
Meighan Simmons, Guard Abby Bishop, Power Forward
Monica Wright, Guard

The benches are an interesting matchup, to say the least, as the two teams differ on their approaches. The Dream regularly go 10 deep with their rotation and have had games where all 12 players saw action at meaningful times in the game. The Storm on the other hand relied almost exclusively on the firepower of their starting lineup until after the Olympic break when additional practice time allowed for their reserves to grow into larger roles.

Another major difference is the Dream’s leading bench contributors–Holmes( who is likely to start), Cortijo and Ajavon–are all guards while the Storm’s bench is heavily weighted towards wings and posts. This brings up an interesting matchup of quickness versus size. In the Dream’s favor, however, is the inclusion on their roster of former Storm center Markeisha Gatling and 2015 Storm training camp invitee Meighan Simmons. Both players having knowledge and experience of the inner workings of Storm coach Jenny Boucek’s system definitely can’t hurt the Dream.

An edge for the Storm is the depth of talent they have ready and waiting to check in. The last two players on the Seattle bench are Abby Bishop and Monica Wright. Both players have won WNBA championships. The former is also an Olympic bronze medalist while the latter was the 6th woman on two Minnesota Lynx championship teams.

Edge: Storm

How They Matchup – Coaches

This is by far the most interesting matchup of the entire contest. For Atlanta, Michael Cooper brings one of the most storied resumes in basketball history. He won five NBA championships as a player, was named to five all defensive First Teams and also won defensive player of the year in 1987. His coaching resume, while not as prestigious is equally impressive. He has served as an assistant coach for the Lakers from 1994-97 and for the Nuggets in 2004 before being named interim head coach part way through that season. He then spent two years as head coach of the D-League Albuquerque Thunderbirds compiling a 50-48 record. He started in the WNBA as an assistant with the LA Sparks in 1999 before being promoted to head coach the next season and leading the franchise to back-to-back WNBA championships. He served a second stint as the Sparks’ head coach from 2007-09, and before taking over the Dream in 2013, served as the head coach of the USC Women’s program for four years in which his teams won 58 percent of their games.

Jenny Boucek is quite possibly the person with the longest history with the WNBA. She began as a player in the league’s inaugural season as a member of the Cleveland Rockers. Injuries derailed her playing career after her rookie campaign, but she has been a coach ever since, beginning with one year as an assistant with the Washington Mystics before spending three years with the Miami Sol. In 2003 she joined the Storm’s staff for her first go around with the franchise and helped develop young superstars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. From 2007-09 she was head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs until the team’s poor performance in an injury-riddled season led to her dismissal from the team. She returned to the Storm as an associate head coach in 2010 and was promoted to head coach before the 2015 season. She was a member of the Storm staff during both championship runs and knows what it takes to get the team back there.

Between the two, Cooper has more experience at more levels, but Boucek has a unique understanding of the WNBA and has been able to rapidly implement her culture and philosophies extremely effectively, especially after the Olympic break. Even so, Cooper’s 20 years of coaching experience coupled with his time playing at the highest level will be tough to compete with.

Edge: Dream

Conclusion

This will definitely be an exciting matchup between two teams on the rise. The biggest questions, however, are all on the Dream. Who will step up in the absence of Hayes? How will they respond when not playing on their actual home court? Will Sancho Lyttle be able to play? How will they matchup with the length of the Seattle bench?

The Storm, meanwhile, have to find a way to maintain the energy they have had in nearly every game since the Olympic break and avoid coming out flat as they did in their most recent matchup against the Phoenix Mercury. They will also need to find a way to limit Elizabeth Williams. If either or both of them get going, and McCoughtry is playing like her normal self, the Dream will have a legitimate shot to win by a decent margin. However, if it falls to McCoughtry to carry the load, then the firepower the Storm possess will likely be too much for Atlanta to handle.

Edge: Storm

WNBA Playoff Preview: Storm at Dream

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