Despite plenty of adversity, the Atlanta Dream are on the verge of tying a franchise record for victories as they prepare to defend their Eastern Conference championship in the postseason.
Atlanta looks to snap a four-game road losing streak Sunday against the Connecticut Sun, who simply are looking to end their season on a high note.
The Dream (19-14) got off to a 15-5 start under first-year coach Michael Cooper, but then dropped nine of 11. Included in that slump was the news that Cooper had been diagnosed with early stage tongue cancer, forcing him to take a leave from the team July 21.
Cooper returned Aug. 7 during what turned into a winless four-game road trip, but Atlanta has rebounded to win its last two games. The team clinched the East’s No. 1 seed with a 96-82 win over Phoenix on Wednesday and routed Tulsa 92-76 on Friday.
The Dream now look to tie the franchise record of 20 victories, set in 2011.
"We were just going through our bad spell. Every team has them every year," Cooper said. "This team is notorious for having them towards the end, but we are playing good basketball."
Erika de Souza finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds Friday, while leading scorer Angel McCoughtry returned from a two-game absence and scored 12 points in 15 minutes.
McCoughtry has been bothered by foot problems, but she said she’s ready to go for the playoffs as the Dream seek to reach the WNBA Finals for the fourth time in five years.
"We need momentum heading into the playoffs," McCoughtry said. "That was championship-type basketball with championship-type energy, so it was great."
Connecticut’s play hasn’t been anywhere near championship-caliber this season as it sits in last place in the East and will miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Sun (12-21) have lost four of five after falling 71-67 to Washington on Friday. They’ve gone through a grind since the end of last season, when former MVP Tina Charles demanded a trade and general manager Chris Sienko obliged by dealing her to New York on draft night, when they selected Chiney Ogwumike with the No. 1 overall pick.
About the only positive that came out of Friday’s loss was that the Mystics clinched a playoff spot and eliminated the Liberty, giving Connecticut two lottery picks in next year’s draft to complete the Charles trade.
"I was hoping that would happen on another night," coach Anne Donovan said. "That it would happen to New York on another night, and Washington (would) get to the playoffs on another night.
"At the end of the season, yeah, it gives us more flexibility, it gives us more options, but…"
The Sun beat the Dream 85-76 on June 1 as Ogwumike finished with 18 points, but Atlanta won the next two meetings. McCoughtry scored 25 points in an 89-80 victory in the most recent matchup July 29.