ATLANTA — Elmo is coming to Atlanta, so the surging Dream may hit the road if they continue to win and make the WNBA playoffs.
Dream president Bill Bolen says scheduling conflicts at Philips Arena have forced the team to consider alternate sites as far away as Knoxville, Tenn., home of the Tennessee Lady Vols.
The playoffs seemed unreachable for the expansion team a year ago, when Atlanta finished its first season 4-30 — setting a league record for most losses. The Dream are 15-12 this season and are in second place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has won eight of its last 10 games.
"At the end of the day it’s a good problem to have, the scrambling for a playoff venue," Bolen said Wednesday.
"I’ll take that any day of the week."
Other "home" options include the Gwinnett Arena near Atlanta and the college basketball arenas at Georgia and Georgia Tech.
"Sesame Street Live" is scheduled for Philips Arena on Sept. 19-20, and the NHL Atlanta Thrashers have three home preseason games in late September.
The WNBA playoffs begin Sept. 16. The finals will end by Oct. 9.
"It’s a common problem for many WNBA teams that play in NBA arenas," Bolen said.
"September is a very popular month for family shows at a lot of these arenas. In our case Sesame Street has been booked for a year. It’s not something you can plan around. It’s a very profitable show."
The Dream play six of their final seven regular-season games on the road, including Thursday night’s contest at Detroit.
Bolen said Knoxville’s 21,000-seat Thompson-Boling Arena, home of the Lady Vols, "is certainly a fine backup option." But he added that staging the home playoff games in Knoxville "would not be ideal in terms of being easily accessible for our fans in Atlanta." Knoxville is about 200 miles from Atlanta, a drive of about 3« hours.
Tennessee fans did help fill the seats at Philips Arena on Sunday, when the Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt attended the game to see four of her former players: the Sparks’ Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt and the Dream’s Chamique Holdsclaw and Michelle Snow. Summitt was recognized at halftime and addressed the remaining fans from the sellout crowd of 11,304 after the game.
The sellout impressed Bolen.
"Knoxville is definitely a backup option for us because we know it’s a very, very high quality place to play," Bolen said.
"We know there will be a lot of fans there. We saw a lot of them here on Sunday with a sellout crowd. We believe if we have to leave town or get outside the metro area, the best place to play would be Knoxville.
"We’re very committed to playing in a professional level arena for these games, so therefore we’re not just going to play at any random gym."
Bolen said there are potential scheduling conflicts at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum and Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum on dates the facilities’ parking lots are reserved for football games.
Bolen expects to have a playoff plan "in the next week or two."
Dream coach Marynell Meadors said the thrill of making the playoffs would make up for not being able to play at Philips Arena.
"To me, it’s a playoff game," Meadors said. "I would prefer to play in our home site, but if we can’t play there we’re happy to be in the playoffs and we’ll play wherever we play."