August 22, 2020 

Defense and rebounding key for L.A. Sparks

The win streak continues

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Riquna Williams #2 of the Los Angeles Sparks shoots theball against the Atlanta Dream on August 21, 2020 at the Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

Courtney Williams hit a jumper with 3.7 seconds left, and it looked like the Sparks five-game win streak was about to come to an end.

But Candace Parker put the team on her back, as she’s done many times throughout her career, put the ball on the floor, and went straight to the rim for the game-tying basket as time expired. In overtime, the Sparks regained control and pulled away for a 93-85 win to keep their win streak intact.

Parker was once again brilliant on the offensive end, finishing with 17 points on nine shots, but it was on the other end of the floor in overtime where she really made her mark. With the Sparks holding on to an 89-83 lead and needing a defensive stop, Parker stepped in and drew a charge from Elizabeth Williams that essentially sealed the victory.

After the game, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said Parker’s contributions on the defensive end have really energized the team and have played a major factor in the current win streak.

“What Candace has been doing defensively this year cannot go unnoticed. We can’t not talk about it anymore,” Fisher said. “She’s been phenomenal defensively and what she’s doing in terms of rebounding, shot-blocking, communicating, really just trying to provide a level of energy and passion…Her teammates need that from her, and there’s been a ton of possessions this season where she’s provided it.”

Earlier in the season when the Sparks inconsistency saw them alternating wins and losses, Parker spoke about the team needing to improve on the boards in particular. The Sparks were being outrebounded almost every game, and Parker took it upon herself to change that.

Parker has always been a double-double threat throughout her career, and this season has been no different. She’s had six double-doubles this season, including a stretch of five straight, and her 9.4 rebounds per game leads the league.

After the game, Parker once again stressed the importance of rebounding being key to winning a championship.

“I think when we’re able to rebound and get out to that secondary break, we’re at our best. Offense definitely affects defense, and defense affects offense, but rebounding really changes the game both on the offensive end and defensive end,” Parker said. “We won a championship off a rebound. We realize, in the words of Pat Summitt, ‘offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.’ We definitely have to get better on that end, but we’re showing improvement.”

Parker isn’t the only player on the team whose contributions in areas other than scoring have had a big impact. Brittney Sykes has fit right into the role vacated by the retirement of Alana Beard as the team’s defensive ace off the bench. She’s since moved into the starting lineup after the injury to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and has remained with the starters even with Ruffin-Pratt back.

While Sykes did have 12 points in the win, her most important contributions came on the defensive end, particularly late in the game when she continued to hound whoever she was guarding despite playing with five fouls. She’s become the team’s energy player who plays whatever role she’s asked.

“My philosophy with that is just how valuable I can be on the team. If my role is to lock up and I don’t happen to score, then so be it. But I know I’m much more than just a scorer,” Sykes said. “I change the game for my team, I bring energy for my team, whatever they ask me to do, I do it.”

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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