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MINNEAPOLIS -- It hardly would be a surprise if the first person to greet Erika de Souza when she finally walks through the door at the Atlanta Dream's hotel is Sancho Lyttle.
That, by the way, hadn't happened as of Monday afternoon, the day the Dream spent nursing the sting of Sunday night's 88-74 loss to Minnesota to open the WNBA Finals.
De Souza helped lead Brazil to an Olympic berth in the FIBA Americas Championship in Colombia last week and missed three Atlanta games. Travel difficulties have prevented her from rejoining the Dream to help them in their quest for a WNBA title. She still is expected to be back in time for Wednesday's Game 2 at the Target Center.
"When I see her, I see her," Dream coach Marynell Meadors said.
Lyttle undoubtedly will be as happy to see de Souza as anyone will. De Souza's absence has had a big impact on Lyttle's game. It forced the Dream into a smaller lineup; forced Lyttle into the center spot, away from the face-up game she has played so well from the power forward spot; and forced her out of her comfort zone.
Lyttle looked plenty uncomfortable Sunday night in Game 1 against the Lynx. She was 0-for-5 from the floor with five rebounds and no points. She came into the series averaging 11.8 points a game in the playoffs. The Dream were outrebounded 40-28 and outscored in the paint 52-30.
Lyttle was simply not the factor she usually is.
"I think she can play better, and I know she would say the same thing," Meadors said. "We've moved her from the 4 to the 5 and we've taken her out of her game a bit. We were able to get by with it with Indiana. But with the physical play that the Lynx have inside and the post players they keep sending in, it caused us some problems last night."
Meadors said she didn't see Lyttle "looking for her shot. And we need for her to do that."
Lyttle, a sixth-year player out of Houston, knows what her coach knows.
"I have played in the 5 spot a lot, and I can play there comfortably," she said. "But since I've been here, I've been more outside. It wasn't the way that I'm normally getting touches. When you play a position that your teammates are not accustomed to you playing, they don't look for you as much."
The Dream's roller-coaster season, in which they started 3-9 but found a groove that brought them to the Finals for the second straight season, has been a reflection of Lyttle's own season.
She missed six games early on, fulfilling her obligation to the Spanish national team. Upon her return, she missed six more fighting through a back injury.
She watched her team struggle and tried to do what she could from the bench, offering advice and telling her teammates what she could see.
"I tried to give them motivation," Lyttle said. "When I got in the game, I just did the things that I do. I didn't try to overdo it or underdo it. Just do the things that I do."
Lyttle said the lesson learned is: "Never give up hope."
"We started out terrible, and this is where we are at now," Lyttle said. "We knew if we could get into the playoffs, we could do this. We were dead in the water, but we got life."
When Lyttle is on the floor, she provides the Dream with physicality and rebounding, which serves as a productive partner to the fast-paced games of Angel McCoughtry, Iziane Castro Marques and Lindsey Harding.
She is an integral part of Atlanta's success, evidenced by the multiyear contract extension she signed on Sept. 18. And she is better when playing with de Souza.
"No question it will be a much better setup for us [when both Lyttle and de Souza are on the floor]," Meadors said. "It's going to give us a lot more flexibility and depth."
Lyttle said she wants to play better on Wednesday night, whether de Souza is back or not.
"You can't depend on one person all the time, but when she comes back, it will be a whole different team," Lyttle said. "We will probably be a little slower, but we've played that way from the beginning."