Atlanta (4-7) at New York (4-8)

By KATE HEDLIN, STATS Writer Saturday, Jun 23, 2012 Kickoff: 4:00 pm EDT Sun Jun 24, 2012

Off to a slow start, the Atlanta Dream’s offensive struggles have gotten worse since losing WNBA leading scorer Angel McCoughtry to a knee injury. An extended absence by Lindsey Harding certainly wouldn’t help.

Both players are listed as day to day by the Dream, who try to avoid a season-high third straight loss Sunday when they visit the New York Liberty in the final meeting between the teams in 2012.

After reaching the WNBA finals last season, the Dream (4-7) sit one game ahead of last-place Washington in the Eastern Conference and lead New York by a half-game.

Offensive struggles are a big reason why. Atlanta was the highest-scoring team in the East last year, averaging 82.5 points, but it’s scoring 77.4 per game this season.

The Dream failed to break 75 points in the last two games as McCoughtry sat on the bench with a sprained left knee ligament.

Coach Marynell Meadors doesn’t know when McCoughtry, averaging 22.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, will return.

Without her, Atlanta fell 73-60 to New York on Tuesday, matching its fewest points this season. Harding and Sancho Lyttle each scored 13, with Lyttle adding 13 rebounds, and the Dream shot 35.3 percent and had 18 turnovers.

“Not having Angel puts them in a tough situation,” New York guard Cappie Pondexter said. “This gave us the upper hand because we didn’t have to focus on her, and we all played loosely and freely.”

The Liberty could have even less to worry about if Harding, second on the team with 13.4 points per game, is unavailable. She fell backwards while defending Essence Carson and had to be helped off the court with an apparent right leg injury with less than five minutes remaining.

While Atlanta battles injury concerns, it will try to avoid a third straight loss to New York (4-8) after it won the first meeting 100-74 on May 25. The Dream are 0-3 on the road, falling 79-74 to the Liberty on June 5.

The Liberty were unable to build on Tuesday’s win over Atlanta, losing 102-70 at Minnesota on Thursday. Pondexter scored 30 points and New York jumped out to an early lead, but the Lynx held the Liberty to seven points in the fourth quarter.

“They just spanked us,” coach John Whisenant said. “They played like a WNBA champion.”

New York’s last two losses were by a combined 74 points and six of its eight defeats were by at least 15.

Poor defense is just one reason. The Liberty are giving up 82.4 points per game, third-worst in the WNBA, and are last in the league in allowing opponents to grab an average of 37.9 rebounds.

The Lynx outrebounded them 49-33 and had 16 offensive boards.

“It’s been our nemesis all year,” Whisenant said. “We can play good defense, but if we let the other team get the offensive rebound, it doesn’t do us much good.”

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