The opener of a home-and-home set between the Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty provided ample proof of where each team’s season could be heading.
After dealing the Liberty their most lopsided loss of 2014 while matching a franchise record with their sixth straight win, the Dream visit Madison Square Garden on Sunday for the second in the two-game series.
Atlanta (9-3) has been rolling since falling to 3-3 with a loss against Connecticut on June 1, averaging 86.3 points during a six-game run that ties a team record set in 2010 and first duplicated last season.
The stretch has vaulted the Dream into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off a sweep of a home-and-home against Washington, the Dream put in an impressive overall effort in Friday’s 85-64 home victory over New York (3-10).
Angel McCoughtry scored 18 points in 25 minutes to lead five players in double figures. Tiffany Hayes added 16 points, rookie reserve guard Shoni Shimmel scored 14, Erika de Souza had 11 and Aneika Henry 10.
The offensive balance was complemented by a stifling defense that held the Liberty to 39.4 percent (26 for 66) shooting.
New York’s leading scorers, Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter, were each held to six points after coming in with averages of 17.3 and 15.9, respectively.
"We’re trying to make their top players not be their top players, and tonight it worked," said center Sancho Lyttle, who had nine points, five rebounds and four steals. "Cappie only had a few points, and the same with Tina."
Charles had averaged 22.5 points over her previous four games but shot 3 for 12, while Pondexter, who scored 23.3 per game in her last three, was 3 of 8. The Liberty were outscored 42-30 in the paint and outrebounded 45-35 in losing their fifth straight game.
Alex Montgomery had 11 points and reserve forward DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 10 for New York, which sits at the bottom of the pack in the East.
"I thought we played very hard all year long, every game, every minute," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "I thought this one we gave into the frustration and it showed up … Overall, I think it’s individually collective pride, effort that they have to stand up. There were times (Charles) was engaged, and times she wasn’t."
Atlanta has spread the scoring around during the win streak with five players reaching double figures in three of the games and four in two others.
Another positive for the Dream of late has been their turnover numbers. They came into Friday’s game averaging a league-high 17.2, but matched a season low with 10 after setting that mark in their win against the Mystics on Wednesday.