The conversation about the Dallas Wings’ first-round playoff series, which begins tomorrow night, should be as straightforward as the following facts:
- The fourth-seeded Wings were 3-0 against their opponent, the fifth-seeded Atlanta Dream.
- The most recent of those wins came less than a week ago, in Sunday’s regular-season finale, when Dallas ran Atlanta off the court in a 17-point drubbing.
- That defeat was Atlanta’s fifth in the last eight games, sealing a 19-21 regular-season record.
- The Wings, meanwhile, finished 22-18—their first 20-win season since relocating to Dallas in 2016, and the first 20-win campaign for the franchise since 2008, which was nine head coaches, three presidential terms, two cities, two nicknames, and one global pandemic ago.
- Dallas is one of four WNBA teams to finish the regular season with a positive points differential (+2.9). Atlanta, on the other hand, finished at a -1.4
- The Dream allowed the second-most opposing rebounds in the WNBA. And the Wings just so happen to lead the WNBA in team rebounds per game.
We’ll stop here, because by now you’ve likely arrived at the same conclusion I have: the Wings should win this series. For that matter, the Wings need to win this series.
Because after seven years of fits and starts, of dashed hope and halting progress, if this franchise can’t make tangible progress by advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since it was called the Tulsa Shock, then when will that moment arrive?
This is the sort of expectation that goes hand in glove with the franchise firing its head coach and overhauling its roster after last year’s first-round exit, its second in a row. We are no longer dealing with the fresh-faced group from 2021, when it was easy to forgive a one-and-done postseason loss to eventual champion Chicago. The youngest team in the league that season needed to accumulate some battle scars. Dallas is now the domain of Natasha Howard, the 32-year-old big nearing a decade of pro minutes on her ledger. It’s the domain of Satou Sabally, the WNBA’s well-deserved Most Improved Player, who will enter free agency this offseason in search of a pay raise to match her skyrocketing production. And it is the domain of Arike Ogunbowale, who, at 26 years old, is approaching the acid test of whether her ball-dominant game can be the foundation of a championship team. As Justin Carter recently explained, the Wings go as far as that triumvirate takes them. And that triumvirate has no time to waste.
There are potential silver linings if this isn’t Dallas’ long-awaited breakthrough. Perhaps third overall pick Maddy Siegrist’s scoring touch from Villanova (she’s the Big East’s all-time leading scorer) emerges in her second WNBA season, and the same goes for Stephanie Soares (fourth overall) and Lou Lopez Senechal (fifth overall) breaking into the rotation after redshirt seasons due to injury. For that matter, maybe 22-year-old Awak Kuier and 23-year-old Veronica Burton play their way into more prominent roles after having their minutes yo-yoed all year by head coach Latricia Trammell.
But we have been here before. Reread this column I wrote two years ago, after the loss to Chicago, and notice all the names who are no longer in Dallas. The Wings have known their share of bright young talents who they couldn’t make gleam; it’s what prompted this roster turnover. And so as plausible as it is that this year’s rookie crop could be different, it’s just as likely that none of them develop enough to ease the weight on that star trio’s shoulders and age whittles away at Howard’s game, or that Sabally’s body breaks down like it has the previous two seasons while she also accounts for significantly more cap space, or that Dallas decides once and for all that Ogunbowale’s peaks and valleys are too volatile to be this franchise’s focal point.
Which is why there can be no more waiting, if not for a championship—Dallas would be hard-pressed to get past both New York and Vegas—then at least for a meaningful step toward one. Meekly as they played Dallas in the regular season, Atlanta might not go quietly with sophomore sensation Rhyne Howard and do-it-all Allicia Gray, who was the best player on last year’s Wings roster and would make this year’s core a quartet. But Dallas has too many advantages for that to matter. The Wings’ time must be now. And if it isn’t? Then it’s high time to ask when the results will ever change.
Game 1 of Dallas’ series versus Atlanta takes place at 8:30 p.m. at the College Park Center and will air on ESPN 2