September 11, 2023 

Atlanta Dream ready to capitalize on first WNBA playoff trip since 2018

Atlanta will face challenging opponent in Dallas Wings

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — It had been since 2018 since the Atlanta Dream had made the playoffs. But thanks to the addition of utility guard Allisha Gray, Nia Coffey’s return from injury, and the anticipated improvements for reigning Rookie of the Year winner Rhyne Howard in her second season, a return to that stage was the goal for 2023.

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Now, in the second seasons of the Tanisha Wright and Dan Padover tenure in Atlanta, the organization has done just that, finishing with a 19-21 record and getting the No. 5 seed in the WNBA playoffs.

“None of this gets done without them, they’re the ones who do most of the work, to be honest with you,” Wright on the impact of her coaching staff. “I think I have one of the hardest-working coaching staffs in our league; they put tons of energy and effort into preparing our players with scouts. There’s not a stone left unturned in terms of knowing what to expect on the court.”

For perspective, in 2018, the Dream was playing in McCamish Pavilion at Georgia Tech, Howard was entering her freshman season at Kentucky, and Wright was in her second to last season in the WNBA as a player, so… it’s been a while.

“Making the playoffs is not easy, so doing it with this group is special,” All-Star center Cheyenne Parker said following the Dream’s victory over the Seattle Storm on Sept. 6. “[They’re] important to me, and I’m really excited for the journey.”

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Monique Billings, Tanisha Wright, and Cheyenne Parker following Atlanta’s win over Seattle on Sept. 6, 2023 (Photo credit: Hunter Cruse | The Next)

27-year-old forward Monique Billings is the lone player remaining on the roster from Atlanta’s 23-11 team in 2018. The UCLA product was a rookie at the time, playing behind an experienced core of Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes, Angel McCoughtry, Jessica Breland, and Elizabeth Williams.

“During my rookie season, we had a really good team, so I know what it feels like [to make the playoffs],” Billings said. “With me being a veteran now, I feel pressure, but it’s a good type of pressure. I just want our team to be successful and to show up for my team [every day].”

Now, Billings is starting for the playoff-bound Dream with Montgomery, a co-owner of the organization, watching courtside.

“It’s all a journey. Basketball is the sport that we play, but there’s so much more to life,” Billings on her path to this point. “With everything I’ve gone through these past few years, they’re life experiences, so I just want to continue to grow as a person and player.”

The Dream will kick off their playoff run on Friday against the No. 4 seed Dallas Wings in a three-game series in the first round of the WNBA playoffs.

Atlanta went 0-3 against Dallas in the regular season, including a 94-77 home defeat in the season finale on Sept. 10. The Dream were also outscored in the paint by 18 points and outrebounded by 23 rebounds in the three matchups against the Wings.

You can’t teach height. Dallas is the tallest team in the WNBA with a starting front-court of Teaira McCowan (6’7), Satou Sabally (6’4) and Natasha Howard (6’2). Joining the trio is Kalani Brown (6’7) and Awak Kuier (6’6) off the bench.

Wright and Billings sighted the Wings’ size, length and effective high-low game as major factors in its struggles against Dallas this season.

“With players bigger than you, you have to try to stop them early, you can’t let them bury you,” Billings said. “We need to dig, and help off with our guards; that’ll be a big factor for us.”

One avenue for success for the Dream is maximizing on the Wings’ defensive inconsistencies to ignite early offense. Since Aug. 1, Dallas has the second-worst defensive rating (107.9) and the fourth-highest turnover rate (17.6%). Also, Dallas’ opponents are shooting a league-best 40.3% from beyond the arc in August and September, according to WNBA.com.

“To add to that, pace is [also important],” Wright said. “With opponents with that size, how you move on the offensive end really helps. We don’t have the size that they have, but we have speed, so if we use our athleticism on the offensive end, hopefully that can work.”


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Additionally, to win a playoff series, Atlanta will need consistent efforts from its big three of Howard, Gray, and Parker. This season, they became the third trio in WNBA history to each score 600 or more points in a season.

Specifically with Howard, the 23-year-old wing has struggled with her shooting efficiency of late. She has shot under 40 percent from the field in six of the last 10 games, and under 35 percent from 3 in seven of the last 10 games.

In Howard’s three regular season games against Dallas, she shot 37.5% from 3 and 30% from 2, so the Wings will likely look to make Howard beat them as a driver and force her to score from within the 3-point line.

Game 1 will take place on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET and broadcasted on ESPN2. After three full days off, Game 2 will be Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Both of those games will take place in Arlington.

If the Dream wants to host its first playoff game since 2018 — either in a potentially decisive Game 3 on Friday, Sept. 22 or in the WNBA semifinals — Atlanta will need to win at least one of those two games on the road.


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Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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