- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Dream hope a devastating loss in last year’s WNBA playoffs will provide some valuable lessons for the new season.

After claiming the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Dream were upset in the opening round by the Chicago Sky, squandering a 17-point lead at home in the fourth quarter of the deciding game.

“I thought we lost it in the rebounding. That is something we are going to work extremely hard on,” said Atlanta coach Michael Cooper, invoking the name of an NBA coach who won five titles. “It goes along with what Pat Riley used to say - no rebounds, no rings.”

Atlanta returns four of their five starters, led by second-team All-WNBA selection Angel McCoughtry, who is entering her seventh season.

Cooper knows how important the former Louisville star is to his team, and he will try to make sure she is primed for the playoffs.

He points to the lessons provided by another NBA coach with five rings.

“I’m going to take the Gregg Popovich approach with her during the season and make sure she gets her rest,” Cooper said Tuesday, referring to the San Antonio Spurs coach known for sitting his stars late in the season. “She didn’t play a full season overseas, so that really has helped. With the people coming in, it can take a heavy burden off her in terms of scoring. Look for her scoring average (18.5 a game) to go down. If we can get her rest during the season, she will be a better player when we really, really need her.”

The only starting position that will be new is at point guard, where second-year player Shoni Schimmel will get first crack. Schimmel was named a WNBA All-Star as a rookie (where she won the MVP award) and averaged 8.3 points and 3.6 assists coming off the bench.

Now she will have to direct an offense that has a veteran frontcourt of Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle in addition to McCoughtry.

“My first year, I didn’t know what to expect,” Schimmel said. “I have a year under my belt and I know what I’m doing this year. I want to bring leadership. Last year, I didn’t know what my role was. Now I know what I’m doing.”

Cooper missed six games in the middle of last season when dealing with early stage tongue cancer. After a fast start, the team stumbled during Cooper’s absence and never regained its dominant form it displayed during its 10-3 start. Cooper said his health is fine and he is ready for the season.

“Last year was tough with Coop’s health,” McCoughtry said. “That weighed on us a lot. This year will be better in that aspect.”

The Dream have reached the WNBA Finals three times with the core group of McCoughtry, de Souza and Lyttle, but they have yet to break through with a championship.

“Expectations are to win a lot of games and win a championship,” McCoughtry said. “Simple. Hopefully it is just our time.”

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