The Atlanta Dream may want to think about getting Shoni Schimmel more involved after watching her steal the show at the All-Star game. It will be up to assistant Karleen Thompson to do so after coach Michael Cooper revealed he has early stage tongue cancer.
With Cooper taking a temporary leave of absence, the Dream will try to focus on the task at hand as they visit Minnesota for the first time since the WNBA Finals seeking a sweep of the season series Tuesday night.
Cooper, 58, will have surgery this week and the Dream say a full recovery is expected. He’s expected to miss about two weeks, with Thompson filling in.
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”I’m fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection,” Cooper said. ”I know the team will be in good hands with coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon.”
With Cooper coaching the Eastern Conference, Schimmel became the third reserve to start an All-Star game and led her team to a 125-124 overtime victory Saturday. She earned MVP honors after finishing with an All-Star game-record 29 points and eight assists.
"They call her Showtime Schimmel," Indiana’s Tamika Catchings said of the rookie. "She came out and put on a great show."
The Dream (15-6) own a five-game lead in the Eastern Conference, and they could be increasing it if Schimmel can raise her game. She’s averaging 7.2 points and 36.9 percent shooting in just over 19 minutes per contest.
Schimmel hardly had any impact on Atlanta’s 85-82 home win over Minnesota on June 13, missing her one shot while recording two assists, one steal and two turnovers with four fouls. Angel McCoughty led the way with 23 points while fellow All-Star Erika de Souza added 16 and 11 rebounds. The Dream also held Maya Moore to a season-low 10 points – well below her WNBA-leading mark of 24.1.
A repeat performance could be hard to come by in Minnesota, where the Dream have dropped eight in a row, including a combined four losses in the WNBA Finals in 2011 and ’13. The Lynx took all three home meetings last year by an average of 24.0 points.
Minnesota (17-6) is seeking a fifth consecutive victory overall after beating Tulsa 93-82 on Wednesday in its final game before the break. Moore had 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists while Lindsay Whalen added 18 points and five assists.
"Maya’s the Michael Jordan of this league," Shock coach Fred Williams said. "When you have guards and players like her and Whalen, they make a lot of great plays together."
The Lynx outscored Tulsa 52-38 in the paint and held a 23-4 edge in transition.
"When we can get the rebound secured, we can push," Moore said. "We have great athletes on this team. Lindsay Whalen, she’s hockey like, the way she runs and feels the floor."
The Dream had won four straight before falling 77-75 at New York on Wednesday. Atlanta, which trailed by 12 late in the third quarter before storming back, allowed the winning shot with four-tenths of a second left.
"We need to play better for 40 minutes," McCoughtry said after a 20-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist performance. "It’s a good sign that we battled back and didn’t roll over, but we need to be more consistent."
The Dream will have to get by without newcomer Delisha Milton-Jones, who will miss the rest of the season after rupturing her Achilles tendon last Sunday. The veteran forward was acquired from New York on July 9 for Swin Cash.