- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) - Improved scoring balance has the Atlanta Dream peaking at the right time.

Atlanta no longer needs All-Star Angel McCoughtry to take the scoring lead every game. Though McCoughtry remains the first option on offense, the Dream proved in their two-game sweep of Connecticut in the first round of the WNBA playoffs that they have some depth.

The balance has helped Atlanta win nine of its last 10 games as it prepares to open the Eastern Conference finals at Indiana on Thursday night.

McCoughtry was one of four players to score 12 points in the Dream’s 69-64 clinching win over Connecticut. Lindsey Harding led Atlanta with 21 points in the opening win, when McCoughtry was one of two players with 16.

The Dream are seeking a second straight trip to the WNBA Finals, and coach Marynell Meadors said Wednesday that improved depth gives her team a better chance at its first title.

“I think the one thing we do have is the balance,” Meadors said. “We have great balance. We don’t really care who shoots it, who rebounds it, who steals it, who defends it. We just work together as a team and I think over the last 17, 18 games I’ve seen us come together as a group. Our chemistry is absolutely awesome right now.”

Seattle beat Atlanta in last year’s finals.

The Dream didn’t look like a contender early this season, losing nine of its first 12 games while adjusting to the addition of Harding at point guard.

“We had a lot of injuries early and we had to work on our chemistry, especially with me moving into a new system,” Harding said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s extremely hard. But finally when people were healthy and we had more days to practice together, we could finally jell. It’s just about learning each other.”

Center Erika de Souza and forward Sancho Lyttle combined to average 26.5 points and 17 rebounds in the sweep of Connecticut. Guard Armintie Price also scored in double figures in the series.

McCoughtry was second in the league with 21.5 points per game in the regular season. She has faced increased double-teams while emerging as one of the league’s new stars.

“They are just running two and three people at her all the time and she’s getting really good about passing out of those things,” Meadors said. “The rest of the team is spotting it where they can see her.”

McCoughtry brings more than scoring to the Atlanta lineup. Even while scoring only 12 points in the second win over Connecticut, she added nine rebounds and three steals.

She was scoreless in the first half while limited by foul trouble.

Connecticut led the first game 68-63 when McCoughtry went to the bench with five fouls. Iziane Castro Marques hit two 3-pointers to help fuel an 11-4 run in Atlanta’s 89-84 win.

“When you looked at our wins, it was balanced scoring, a balanced attack, and that’s extremely hard to defend,” Harding said. “Definitely we’d love to take Angel’s 35 points but you can’t just look at her points. She does so many other things to help us win.

“You watch her play and she can score with two, three or four players on her. But she has to decide if it’s an on night or an off night. If it’s not on for her, she helps find other people.”

The Dream again had to rally to beat Connecticut in the second game.

“We can fight from behind or we can get ahead and stay ahead,” Meadors said. “I think sometimes we play better from behind than we do if we’re leading all the way.”

McCoughtry averaged 23.8 points as Atlanta swept four games against Indiana in the regular season.

“It means nothing. Absolutely nothing,” said Meadors of the regular-season sweep. “Right now we’re 2-0 in the playoffs and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

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