Angel McCoughtry nears triple-double as Dream beat struggling Sparks

ATLANTA -- After missing her first six shots, Angel McCoughtry made life miserable for the Los Angeles Sparks.

"We played well for about 23 seconds, but she hit some pretty big shots at the (shot-clock) buzzer," Sparks center Tina Thompson said. "You can't let those things happen, but some of the shots she hit were tough. Not many people would make them."

McCoughtry had 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to help the Atlanta Dream beat the Sparks 89-80 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

She's trying to get the Dream back to playing at the high level that allowed them to win the Eastern Conference last season.

"We are feeling good about ourselves and we want to keep this going," McCoughtry said. "We want to make the playoffs, and that is where the momentum is coming from right now."

Armintie Price added 14 points and Iziane Castro Marques had all of her 13 points in the second quarter for Atlanta, which is one win from matching a franchise-best streak that began last season.

The Sparks lost their fourth straight. Ebony Hoffman scored 16 points and Thompson added 15 for Los Angeles.

McCoughtry made a difficult jumper with 1:35 remaining and two seconds left on the shot clock, standing beside the right baseline and arcing in a soft 17-footer for an 80-72 lead that all but ended Los Angeles' chances.

"Angel really saved them," Sparks coach Joe Bryant said. "She was the difference down the stretch. She made some big shots for them, especially around the buzzer, but that's what superstars do. We're waiting on Candace (Parker) to get back."

The lead changed hands 14 times in the first half, but McCoughtry and Castro Marques combined to hit 10-of-12 shots and score 23 points as the Dream took a 45-41 halftime lead.

Atlanta took its biggest lead at 11 when McCoughtry hit a pair of free throws with 4:37 left in the third, but the Sparks went on a 12-2 run that cut the lead to one on Jenna O'Hea's basket early in the fourth. O'Hea finished with 14 points.

"We started executing and playing defense," Bryant said. "We did a good job with our zone defense. I think it confused them a little bit, but with their size -- even when played good defense -- they would rebound and get those second-chance points."

Los Angeles, which was outrebounded 46-29, was outscored 22-13 on second-chance points.

"We played better, but it still was not enough," Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro said. "We still have to figure out a way to win basketball games. We're still not rebounding well."

The Sparks, who dropped to 2-8 on the road, play their next two games Saturday at Chicago and Sunday at Indiana.

Los Angeles starting forward DeLisha Milton-Jones went scoreless for the second straight game after playing a season-low 13 minutes and sat on the bench during the fourth quarter.

McCoughtry, who has averaged 26.2 points during the winning streak, looks fully recovered from a training camp knee injury.

During the first 11 games, she averaged 15.5 points and shot just 35.9 percent. McCoughtry has shot 45.8 percent since the Dream were blown out at New York on July 13.

"We have great balance on this team," McCoughtry said. "If someone is having an off night, another player will step up and help out. Like me tonight, I had a slow start, but the team picked up the slack. It's nice and comforting to know that you don't have to go out there and do it all by yourself."