Sky-Dream Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Dream were looking the part of the top seed in the Eastern Conference before struggling down the stretch amid adversity.

Now the defending East champs know they'll need a healthy Angel McCoughtry to make another run at their first WNBA title.

The Dream look to begin that march Friday night when they open the playoffs against Elena Delle Donne and the visiting Chicago Sky, who seek their first-ever postseason win.

Atlanta (19-15) was riding high with a 15-5 record after McCoughtry matched a season best with 33 points in an 81-79 home victory over Chicago on July 13.

Since then, first-year coach Michael Cooper has had to take a leave of absence to deal with tongue cancer and McCoughtry has been limited while she attempts to fight through tendinitis in her foot.

Though Cooper has made it back to the bench, Atlanta has stumbled over the final month despite securing the top seed in the conference for the first time in franchise history. The Dream closed out the regular season by being routed 84-55 at East-worst Connecticut on Sunday.

McCoughtry had a team-high 10 points as Atlanta posted a franchise-low point total and had a two-game winning streak snapped.

''The two games before this, we were playing great and everything was going well,'' rookie guard Shoni Schimmel said, ''and for this game to happen, it was kind of like a reality check for us.''

McCoughtry, a two-time scoring champion, averaged 9.0 points in her last four contests to finish with her lowest average (18.5) since her rookie season of 2009.

She averaged 21.7 points in her three games against the Sky as the Dream dropped three of five in the season series. McCoughtry missed an 87-73 loss at Chicago on May 24 due to a rhomboid strain and an 80-69 road defeat Aug. 10 because of her ailing foot.

Atlanta will almost certainly need McCoughtry at her best if it hopes to reach WNBA Finals for the fourth time in five seasons. The Dream have yet to win a Finals game after getting swept by Minnesota last year.

Fourth-seeded Chicago (15-19) overcame the loss of four starters during the course of the season to reach the playoffs for the second straight year. The Sky were swept by Indiana in the first round in 2013.

''Throughout all our adversities we're starting the second season - the championship season - 0-0,'' coach Pokey Chatman said.

The Sky went 5-13 in a stretch in which Delle Donne missed 17 games due to a flare-up of Lyme Disease.

Chicago enjoyed a 5-1 stretch with its roster nearly back to full strength before losing its last two, closing the regular season with Sunday's 84-72 home defeat to San Antonio with Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and guard Epiphanny Prince sitting out.

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