By Bailey Johnson
When the Dream takes the court Friday night against the Seattle Storm, it will have been seven days since the team last played a game. After defeating the Dallas Wings in come-from-behind fashion on May 24, Atlanta had a full week without a game to prepare to face the reigning WNBA champions.
Coach Nicki Collen chose to treat the week like a sort of minicamp, giving her players a couple of days of rest before hitting the ground running — literally — on Monday morning.
“We tried to go up and down and do some conditioning work on Monday,” Collen said Wednesday. “Then just shooting yesterday, and now we’re into Seattle prep, so we’ll use today and tomorrow for Seattle prep.”
In their week of minicamp, the Dream focused heavily on improving themselves. As Collen said, they didn’t start talking about Seattle until Wednesday, just two days before the game. Before that, the focus was on self-improvement.
“Just cleaned up a lot of our stuff, really,” said Renee Montgomery on Wednesday. “Today’s the first day we even talked about Seattle, and we didn’t talk much about them. I think right now we are still trying to build our base, so we are still trying to clean up stuff for our plays, things where we keep running plays wrong, places where we need to fix tempo. Just working on us.”
The Dream has played just one game this season, so in many ways the team is still figuring things out. The week between playing Dallas and Seattle allowed them time to settle into the system, which will likely pay dividends when Atlanta faces the reigning champions on Friday night.
After winning the WNBA title last year, Seattle looks different this time around. Sue Bird is out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery before the season began, and Breanna Stewart will miss the entire 2019 campaign after tearing her Achilles overseas.
But despite losing those two key players, the Storm are still talented and threatening.
“I can tell you that if you watched them against Phoenix, you can tell that they’re still good,” Collen said. “They still have 12 WNBA players on their roster. I think you just get a heavier dose of Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard. Typically, when players go down, people step up.”
Collen also expects Jordin Canada to be a factor against the Dream. Canada averaged 16.4 minutes per game last season but is already averaging 31 minutes through two games in 2019. For Collen, the keys to the game are keeping Canada contained in the open court, contesting Loyd’s shots, and keeping the Storm off the glass.
And though the Dream had a week to prepare for Seattle, the team has about 18 hours to prepare to face the Washington Mystics on Saturday night in Washington, D.C. Collen and her team will fly out Saturday morning after playing Friday night and try to squeeze as much preparation into their limited time as possible.
But with such a short turnaround, there isn’t that much preparation that Collen can do.
“People have asked how you prepare for a back-to-back,” Collen said. “You don’t in this league. You prepare for the game in front of you, and so we spend these days preparing for Seattle and trying to make ourselves a little bit better every day. Win or lose, we go back to the drawing board and figure out how to get as much as we can out of 45 minutes of film on Saturday and go play a game.”
It helps that the Dream played the Mystics in the preseason and finished the 2018 season with five straight games against Washington in the WNBA semifinals. What helps, too, is that the fundamentals of playing basketball don’t change from game to game.
“They can’t reinvent a new game of basketball, so even though we can’t scout their specific plays, we know when they do a down screen, we do one thing,” Montgomery said. “When they do a pick and roll, we do another thing. You just have to play on your principles.”
Now in her 11th season in the league, Montgomery is no stranger to quick turnarounds between games. And when asked how she makes sure she’s physically ready for the second game, she offered just 10 words in response.
“Oh, I’m ready to go. I woke up ready, baby,” Montgomery said, before walking away with a laugh.