COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — Top scorer Rhyne Howard is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, making it more important for veteran Tina Charles to add punch to the Atlanta Dream’s low-scoring attack as they attempt to remain in the WNBA playoff picture.

Coach Tanisha Wright and the Dream are leaning on experienced leadership from Charles, a former MVP who is on the cusp of moving into the top three of the league’s all-time scoring list.

The Dream (6-9), who play Friday at Connecticut, have lost three straight games and five of six. Atlanta ranks last in the WNBA in points (75.9 per game), field-goal percentage and assists.

Howard, the two-time All-Star and 2022 rookie of the year, was leading the team with 15.4 points per game before hurting her left ankle last week.

The Dream have not announced a timetable for Howard’s return. It is not known if the injury could threaten her spot on the United States’ 3×3 team in the Paris Olympics.

Charles, the 2012 league MVP with Connecticut, is an eight-time All-Star who led the league in rebounds in four seasons and in scoring twice. She ranks second all-time in rebounds, trailing only Sylvia Fowles.

Charles says she applauds the league’s transition to new stars, including Howard in Atlanta, and Caitlin Clark’s national impact. Clark’s visit to Atlanta on Friday with the Indiana Fever attracted 17,575 fans to State Farm Arena, a Dream franchise record for a home game. The Fever beat the Dream 91-79, overcoming a season-high 24 points from Charles.

“I think it’s more a testament to just a new generation coming in,” Charles said of Clark. The demand for tickets led the Dream to move the game from their usual Gateway Center Arena, which has a capacity of 3,500, to the home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

“You know, like I said, I’ve been in awe of Caitlin Clark and just her voice, her maturity, her professionalism and just what she’s able to generate,” Charles said. “Yeah, they’re coming out to see her, but they’re also able to come out and see us and become fans of us as well for those who are just watching the game because of her greatness. So it’s really sweet to just see how it all unfolds, the progression of the league from where it started in 2010.”

After leading Atlanta with 19 points in its 96-75 home loss to New York on Sunday, Charles is averaging 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Charles said her first season in Atlanta has been “really a blessing” and she has enjoyed her reunion with Wright, her former teammate for three seasons with the Liberty, despite the team’s fall below .500.

“Tanisha always says we don’t focus on what we don’t have, but who we have,” Charles said, “Who we have is always more than enough. Those are her exact words. So just remaining confident within ourselves, just trying to go out and execute the game plan.”

Wright knows the 6-foot-4 Charles expects to help fill the scoring void left by Howard’s injury. Wright said that expectation is not diminished even though Charles is 35 and with her sixth WNBA team, following stints with Connecticut, New York, Washington, Phoenix and Seattle.

“I think Tina’s mentality always has been, always will be, to be dominant,” Wright said Sunday. “Because that’s what she’s been throughout her career. I mean, Tina could be 45 playing and think and believe she’s going to be the most dominant player on the court at all times.”

Charles has awards and statistics to bolster her confidence. She is 58 points away from tying Tamika Catchings for third on the all-time WNBA scoring list, behind Diani Taurasi and Tina Thompson.

Her resume earned Charles immediate credibility with her new Atlanta teammates. Allisha Gray, averaging 14.9 points, says Charles has joined forward Naz Hilmon as a team leader.

“Tina fits the role well,” Gray said. “Tina is the most experienced on the team. I mean, she’s been in the league for a while, so I know she’s seen and been through many things. Tina is a big, big part of our team and a great leader as well.”

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