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Courtney Williams
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Odds and Ends

WNBA Best Bets: Dream vs. Fever on Tuesday, September 14

by Jake Wolf
Updated On: September 15, 2021, 8:26 am ET

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The only game on the WNBA slate tonight is a 7:00 pm ET battle between two teams with fewer combined wins than any of the top six seeds earned this season alone. The Indiana Fever visit Atlanta, with the Dream listed as -2.5 favorites on the Spread for a home game with a Total of 153.5 at PointsBet Sportsbook. Last night's spread was a close call, but the Wings managed to cover and improve my WNBA picks record to 16-10 since the break.

Atlanta Dream vs. Indiana Fever

The Fever and the Dream occupy the bottom of the standings, with Indiana's league-worst record of 6-23, one game worse than Atlanta at 7-22. Half of Indiana's wins came in the last 10 games, as the Fever went 3-7 in that span. Atlanta went only 1-9 in the last 10 games, including a seven-game losing streak to start the second half of the season.

Indiana's offense scored the second-fewest points per game this season on the third-lowest field goal percentage and ranked last in effective field goal percentage, three point percentage and made threes per game. The Fever ranked 11th in offensive rating and last in defensive rating this season, resulting in a league-worst -12.2 net rating, 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse than the next lowest-ranked team.

The Fever’s strength is the pick-and-roll game as Indiana led the league in PPP on possessions using a pick-and-roll ball handler, but two of the team's top three ball handlers for time of possession will miss tonight's game with Tiffany Mitchell and Danielle Robinson inactive. Indiana is also missing some key defensive pieces, as Kelsey Mitchell is the only projected starter ranked in the top half of overall defensive PPP allowed this season.

Indiana center Teaira McCowan is staking a claim to the title of best offensive rebounder in the league. McCowan averaged 4.8 offensive rebounds since the break, 1.7 more than second-ranked Brianna Turner, and scored 97 points from offensive rebounds this season, 24 more than the next-closest player.

Tonight is the third and final game of the season between these two teams. The home team won each of the first two matchups, and the season series is tied at 1-1. The most recent matchup on July 11 was an 11-point win for Indiana behind McCowan's 21 points and 14 rebounds, but Courtney Williams shot an outlier 3 for 14 from the field and the Dream played without Tiffany Hayes.

McCowan was limited to two points and three rebounds in the first game as Atlanta overcame Jessica Breland's 15 points and 16 rebounds in a 83-79 win on May 21. Breland is one of three Fever starters from that game who will miss tonight's outing, along with the team's three leading bench scorers from that match.

Atlanta is strong on the offensive glass with the second-most offensive rebounds per game, one spot above Indiana's third-ranked 9.4 offensive boards per game. Monique Billings is a big part of Atlanta's rebounding success. Billings averaged the fourth-most offensive rebounds per game this season with the eighth-best offensive rebound percentage. Her minutes increased since the break, and she put up 11.6 points and 7.2 boards per game since the break with an 82nd percentile rank in transition PPP scored.

Courtney Williams served as Atlanta's leading scorer, rebounder and distributor this season with averages of 16.7 points, 6.6 boards and 4.2 assists. Williams led all guards in offensive rebounds per game this season and put up the sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio among players averaging at least 20 minutes this year. The sixth-year guard made her first All-Star team this season and ranked in the top-20 for average points off turnovers, second-chance points and fast-break points per game.

Elizabeth Williams will be tasked with limiting McCowan as the starting center for the Dream. Atlanta's all-time franchise leader in career blocks only put up 5.8 points per game this year but ranks in the WNBA's top-15 for swats per game.

Atlanta conceded the second-most opposing points per game this year, but the defense significantly improved since the break and the Dream allowed the fourth-fewest opponent scoring average over the team's last nine outings. The shift in performance comes from the defense forcing opponents into inefficient shots and winning the turnover battle.

The Dream allowed opponents to make more three-pointers per game than any other team this season but conceded the fifth-fewest opposing three-point makes in the last nine games. Dream opponents took the second-most shots from 8-16 feet among teams since the break as Atlanta's defense forced shooters to convert from midrange instead of beyond the arc or at the rim.

Aari McDonald’s increased playing time gave a boost to the Dream on both sides of the ball. McDonald shot only 32% from inside the arc this season but still earned an 83rd percentile rank in PPP scored from isolation possessions due to her ability to draw contact. McDonald earned free throws on 20% of her isolation possessions this season, the 12th-highest rate in the league. The rookie has been extremely reliable from the line this season, as McDonald is one of six players in the league shooting over 90% on at least 45 free throw attempts this season.

McDonald played even better on defense in her first WNBA season, ranking in the 85th percentile for overall defensive PPP behind great defense against pick-and-roll ball handlers (91st percentile PPP) and isolation possessions (100th percentile PPP).

Another factor in Atlanta's defensive improvement is veteran forward Candice Dupree. Dupree signed with the Dream during the break and grades in the 96th percentile of overall defensive PPP this season. While Dupree only played 20.5 minutes per game in her first seven games with the team, the owner of the WNBA's fourth-highest career points total and sixth-highest career rebounding total should have something left in the tank as her sixteenth season winds down.

The main reason I think the Dream should win this game is the team’s advantage on turnovers and fast-break chances. Atlanta averaged the second-fewest turnovers per game with the second-lowest turnover rate in the league this season. On the other hand, Indiana earned the third-fewest steals per game while giving up the third-most turnovers per game.

Defensively, Atlanta swiped the most steals per game this season with 9.3 per game, which would be the highest team steals average in the WNBA since 2012 according to Atlanta Dream PR. Atlanta scored the third-most points off turnovers and fourth-most fast-break points per game this year. The Dream allowed opponents to score only 10.7 points off turnovers over the last 10 games, the lowest mark in the league during that span, so Indiana may struggle to get easy transition buckets tonight.

Indiana scored the second-fewest points off turnovers and allowed the second-most opposing points off turnovers and opposing fast-break points this season. The Fever also allowed the third-most PPP to opponents in transition, so I expect Atlanta to find success converting on fast-break opportunities.

Atlanta should be able to win the turnover battle tonight as the Dream own the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio and face a Fever team with the league's worst assist-to-turnover ratio. I'm not willing to take Atlanta's spread because the Dream's league-worst free throw percentage could lead to a bad beat, but I'll be looking for live bet opportunities to take Atlanta to win at even odds or better.

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Jake Wolf

Jake Wolf is covering basketball for NBC Sports Edge and has worked for FNTSY Sports Network and YES Network. Follow him on Twitter @jakewolf13 for betting content and basketball analysis.