The Sparks are 7-9 and about to play their third game in five days as they end their little road trip before going back home to Los Angeles on Wednesday. They will take on the Dream in Atlanta on a Sunday matinee for the first time this season.
The Dream are 6-8 and, very much like the Sparks, have been very up and down this season. Their last 10 games have been something: they lost three, won three, lost three, and scored a win over the Washington Mystics last Friday.
When you think of the Atlanta Dream, you think of the first overall pick of last year’s draft, Rhyne Howard. She was a three-level scorer coming out of Kentucky, became an All-Star last season, and won Rookie of the Year in 2022. She continues to do that this season with the Dream, averaging 16.4 points per game. Howard is also an improved three-point shooter this season (.376 compared to .343 last season).
There’s also veterans Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker. Both were selected as all-star reserves on Saturday and they both deserve that honor (although it’s interesting that Howard herself wasn’t selected). Gray came over from the Dallas Wings through trade (which included the pick this year that turned out to be Maddy Siegrist) and has had a breakout season of sorts. She’s had career-highs of 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 2023. Cheyenne Parker is in her third year with Atlanta and has also had a career season with 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per. Both are first-time all-stars.
The Dream also have rookie Haley Jones, who won a national championship in Stanford in 2021. Her versatile game is salivating but there is some concern with her jumper. Monique Billings gets the boards for the Dream. Former Spark forward Nia Coffey does the dirty work and can block shots. Naz Hillmon provides some depth in that forward spot. Danielle Robinson gives some veteran leadership and experience. AD Durr is still making their way back. And Aari McDonald (who was part of the Arizona team that was against Stanford in said 2021 national title game) is with the Dream for her third season after an improved second year but she’s unfortunately injured at the moment.
The Dream get to the line a lot (first in free throws and first in fouls drawn). So while the Sparks do play a physical brand of basketball, they’ll have to watch how the game is called and see what they can get away with. And they know Atlanta has some scorers in Gray, Howard, and Parker.
The Sparks haven’t been great defensively as of late as they have some lulls in stretches. They were beat by cuts by Chicago last Friday and have been susceptible to dry spells on both ends of the court. The Sparks continue to miss some key players (Lexie Brown, Chiney Ogwumike, Nia Clouden, and Layshia Clarendon are all out again while Jordin Canada is questionable) and, again, this has been taking a toll on the Sparks. Coach Curt Miller won’t tell you that with his “next woman up mentality” but it’s hard to win when the squad is incomplete.
Still, the Sparks have enough players that can step up to the plate. But will it be enough against an Atlanta Dream team that is capable of getting all the buckets?