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With star McCoughtry finally back, Dream head to Olympic break with momentum

Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry, 25, is back from a knee injury and leading the league in scoring at 22.7 points a game. She scored 22 in Tuesday’s win against Indiana.

Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry, 25, is back from a knee injury and leading the league in scoring at 22.7 points a game. She scored 22 in Tuesday’s win against Indiana.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Dream know they have work to do if the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions want to make another WNBA postseason run.

After Tuesday’s win, at least they’ll head to the league’s two-week Olympic break with some momentum.

Sore knee and all, Dream leading scorer Angel McCoughtry scored 22 points, Sancho Lyttle added 17 and the Dream won consecutive games for the first time this season with a 70-58 victory against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday.

With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London just around the corner, the Dream (6-7) had been struggling before their last two wins — and that’s putting it mildly. Head coach Marynell Meadors said injuries are partly to blame for early season losses — like to the one to McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer at 22.7 points per game. However, poor team chemistry and defensive breakdowns have also played a role in four disappointing losses at home.

“The coaches were trying to learn what the new players could do and we were trying to blend everybody and only had about three weeks to do that,” Meadors said. “But we have no excuses for losing those four games at home; we should have won some of those for sure.”

Meadors said Atlanta put forth a strong team effort and played solid defense in Sunday’s win against New York. It’s an indication that Dream still has what it takes to secure another playoff berth and possibly reach the finals again.

“I just thought we played really good defense, we took those scores and kept them off rhythm,” Meadors said of Sunday’s victory against the Liberty.

Tuesday’s win was another good sign, despite a slow start.

McCoughtry was held without a point in the first quarter but was able to find her rhythm and scored 18 over a stretch during the second and third quarters. The game’s early noon tipoff caught players on both teams off guard.

“Once we got the blood pumping,” McCoughtry began, “we were a little bit better.”

Having McCoughtry, who missed two games over the last two weeks, back in the lineup was a big boost.

She just hopes the knee can hold up through the Olympics and for the rest of the season.

“It takes a little time to recover, but it’s getting there,” she said. “I just want to get my explosiveness back and things like that so I can get up and down the floor. I look like grandma out there a little bit.”

But when Atlanta returns from its Olympic break, getting wins won’t be easy. After all, Atlanta plays its next seven games on the road, and with the Olympic break coming next month, the Dream’s next home game isn’t until Aug. 22 against Chicago.

McCoughtry said she thinks the two-game winning streak symbolizes that this team is primed to make a run to close out the season.

“We’ve learned from those (losses). We know what we did wrong,” she said. “We say, ‘Hey let’s not make those mistakes again, let’s move on and let’s get better.’ And we have gotten better.”

Meadors and McCoughtry are preparing as part of the U.S. Olympic team, but the two said while they have been busy, their current focus is on getting wins for Atlanta.

However, both also say there is an obvious hole in the Dream’s offense and on defense without center Erika de Souza, who will also be at the London Games — but playing for her native Brazilian team. Meadors said her absence has probably had the biggest impact on team chemistry.

Atlanta currently holds the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but is still one game under .500. Even though there is a possibility the Dream could get into the playoffs with a losing record, they do not want to take that chance.

And with the way McCoughtry is playing, the future is bright in Atlanta. Even if their star is getting up there in age.

“I’m just getting old,” she said jokingly while standing in a postgame hot tub. “I’m not 18, 19 like I used to be, so things at 25 are a little different now.”