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Don't look now, but Dream are title contender

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Dream have become one of the best teams in the WNBA.

Two years after the worst start in league history and a four-win season, the Dream have the second-best record in the league (8-3) and are legitimate championship contenders.

Coach Marynell Meadors said last week that she is comfortable with her squad this season after seemingly constantly retooling the roster since the franchise began play in 2008.

"We're a really great team now," said Meadors, also Atlanta's general manager. "We just kept tweaking and trying to get better. If you try to sit still and rely on what you did before, you're probably going to get passed up. We just keep moving forward."

And the Dream have made great strides in a short period.

Atlanta lost its first 17 games and a WNBA record 30 overall in 2008, prompting an overhaul of the roster. Then in 2009 en route to 18 wins and a postseason berth, reports surfaced that owner J. Ron Terwilliger was looking to sell the team.

After entrepreneur Kathy Betty bought the team and stabilized the ownership situation, six-time All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw asked for a trade before training camp and eventually signed with the San Antonio Silver Stars.

But Angel McCoughtry is making the Dream forget all about their troubled past. Last year's rookie of the year leads the league in scoring with 22.9 points per game and is averaging two steals a contest.

McCoughtry, the Eastern Conference player of the month in May, says she needed to take more of a leadership role heading into this season. She believes the Dream still haven't reached their full potential.

The team's six-game winning streak came to halt last Tuesday night in Seattle with a 90-72 loss to the Storm.

However, Atlanta has beaten the defending champion Phoenix Mercury on the road and has wins against the Indiana Fever, who reached the finals last year, and the San Antonio Silver Stars -- another playoff contender.

"We're trying to reach our max, but still winning games," McCoughtry said. "Once we get there, we'll be dangerous. The pieces are there. We've got speed, quickness and power."

All-Stars Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle have been the league's best rebounding tandem so far this season. de Souza has averaged 10 rebounds and Lyttle has grabbed 9.9 boards per game, ranking them third and fourth in the league.

Iziane Castro Marques, de Souza's Brazilian Olympic teammate, has averaged 13.9 points a game. The Dream also brought in veteran point guard Kelly Miller, who brings leadership to the position alongside second-year starter Shalee Lehning.

"We like to get out and run," said Miller, who is teamed with her twin sister Coco for the first since their college days at Georgia. "This is a good fit for me, especially with Coco here."

Lyttle says they have a shot at the league's title -- something so farfetched a year ago it never crossed players' minds.

"We never thought about getting to the playoffs last year," said Lyttle, who is the team's second leading scorer with 14.6 a game. "So when we did, it was like icing on the cake. Now, our focus is to win games first then make it back to the playoffs and get pass the first round."