- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) - The Braves blew it. The Falcons are struggling. The Thrashers are gone. The Hawks? Who knows when they’ll play another game.

Well, cheer up Atlanta.

There’s still the Dream.

The beleaguered city’s WNBA team has made it to the finals for the second year in a row, providing a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal time for Atlanta’s pro sports scene. The Dream will face the Minnesota Lynx in the best-of-five series, which begins Sunday in Minneapolis.

Dream star Angel McCoughtry called on fans to pack Philips Arena when the series returns to Atlanta for Game 3 next week.

“We’re fighting hard for this city,” she said after practice Friday. “Support us. Show your love for us. We’re trying to give this city something, so we want them to show that they love us. Our house next Friday, there shouldn’t be a seat available.”

That would be quite a feat, considering the Dream ranked 10th out of 12 teams with an average of 6,487 per game at Philips Arena.

Still, it might be a good time for Atlanta to jump on the bandwagon.

The Braves squandered a seemingly comfortable lead for a baseball wild card and were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day. The Falcons, expected to be a Super Bowl contender, are off to a sluggish 1-2 start. The Hawks are sidelined by the NBA lockout, which shows no signs of ending before at least some games are lost. The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg after last season, costing the city its second NHL team.

“It is tough,” coach Marynell Meadors said. “We all have feelings about what’s happened to the Braves and the Falcons right now, and the Thrashers not being here. We’ve all been in those situations throughout our careers. I think the key for us is the excitement of possibly bringing a championship back here.”

Rookie star Maya Moore, who grew up in Atlanta, can relate to what’s going on back home, though she doesn’t plan to show any sympathy when she’s out on the court.

“That’s similar to what we have going on here in Minnesota,” Moore said Friday in a conference call. “We’ve had some struggling teams this season and people are really embracing us in the Twin Cities area.”

The Dream bounced back from a dismal 2-7 start, going 11-3 down the stretch to claim third place in the Eastern Conference. Then, they knocked off two higher-seeded teams, sweeping Connecticut in two straight and knocking off first-place Indiana by winning the decisive game on the road, even without starter Erica de Souza.

The 6-foot-5 center left the team to play for her native Brazil in an Olympic qualifying tournament, but the Dream thrived with a smaller, quicker lineup that included Izi Castro Marques.

De Souza is scheduled to be back with the Dream in time for Game 2 at Minnesota, but Meadors might just stick with the lineup that worked so well against Indiana.

“Once I get somewhere, I kind of like to stay where I am,” Meadors said. “We’ll just figure it out. But we will go little for the first game.”

Atlanta is back in the final for the second year in a row. Last season, as a fourth-place team, the Dream won two playoff series before getting swept by Seattle in three tight games.

That experience could be an advantage against Minnesota, which went six seasons without making the playoffs before soaring to the league’s best record (27-7) this season.

“We’ve been there,” Meadors said. “We know what it took to get there. Now we know what it takes to win it. We’re going to do our best to bring that championship back to Atlanta.”

Both Meadors and McCoughtry said there was no fallout from their clash Tuesday when the star didn’t want to come out of the game late in the first half after picking up her second foul. McCoughtry was clearly peeved when she finally went to the bench.

“Oh, she’s done that before,” Meadors said. “You just have to be the veteran coach and just ignore it, don’t look at her. No eye-to-eye contact and you’re in good shape.”

McCoughtry shrugged off the incident.

“I’m fine. It’s just one of those things,” she said. “We want to win. That’s just my competitive nature of wanting to win. You live and you learn. I’m a young player. I’m learning.”

She sounded more concerned about getting a big turnout for Game 3.

“The fans are going to help us,” McCoughtry said. “That’s why we need to have a sold-out crowd.”

It’s not like there’s any other playoff games going on in Atlanta.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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