After three seasons amounted to just 23 wins combined, the Atlanta Dream are fighting for a playoff spot at 12-14, powered by the league’s newest two-headed monster and led by first-year coach Tanisha Wright.
Veteran Tiffany Hayes and Rookie of the Year favorite Rhyne Howard are showing why Atlanta fans should believe again for the first time in the post-Angel McCoughtry era.
Against the Aces on Tuesday, the Dream started a pair of rookies (Naz Hillmon) and came away with a decisive 16-point road win against the championship contender. Cheyenne Parker played tough defense on A’ja Wilson, and Atlanta rained threes from every direction. They made 15-of-24 attempts.
Hayes was the superstar who erupted for 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting including four 3-pointers in her best game of the season, and Howard scored 24 on 6-of-9 3-point shooting. After the fallout and eventual forced trade of Chennedy Carter, Atlanta looked to have taken several steps back in a slow rebuild. Not anymore.
Few backcourts are built to defend a guard pair who can get buckets off the dribble, spotting up shooting or slashing to the rim. These two are the real deal, and it’s hard to believe they only have seven games experience playing together.
More than Hayes and Howard, the Dream’s other pieces showed signs of improvement as well. AD Durr has been a crucial midseason pickup and Aari McDonald, the 2021 No. 3 pick knocked down a pair of triples for 11 points herself.
Whether or not the Dream reach the postseason or have any success there is beside the point. Wright has rebuilt a competitive culture in Atlanta that should make it a desirable destination to play again.