May 15, 2021 

Defense, rebounding key issues in Sparks season opening loss

Los Angeles falls, 94-71, to Dallas in season opener

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Nneka Ogwumike, seen here in a game against Washington on September 10, 2020, is confident that the Sparks will find chemistry after a season-opening loss. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Sparks opened the 2021 season on Friday night against the Dallas Wings, and despite starting out fairly strong, they fell apart in the second half as they dropped their opener, 94-71.

The Sparks actually led 27-20 at the end of the first quarter and only trailed by three at the half. But rebounding and defensive issues as well as shaky shot selection plagued the team in the second half.

The Sparks did do some good things on the defensive end, forcing Dallas into 27 turnovers, but they allowed the Wings to shoot 53.1% from the field including 47.1% from three-point range.

They also were only able to convert those 27 turnovers into 21 points while Dallas was able to score 23 points off of the Sparks 15 turnovers.

After the game, Sparks coach Derek Fisher chalked up the inability to convert in transition and the defensive woes to the work the team still needs to do to be able to attack and score, as well as the team getting frustrated at missing convertible opportunities on the offensive end.

“When you force that many turnovers, I think we should have been able to capitalize on those a little bit more,” Fisher said. “As the game went on, the fatigue set in, the frustration and the disappointment of how the game was going… the defense got progressively worse.”

The Sparks were also plagued on the glass, giving up 45 rebounds to the Wings while pulling down only 25 of their own. Both Kayla Thornton and Charli Collier finished in double figures in rebounding for the Wings with 11 and 10, respectively, while only Nneka Ogwumike came close with eight for the Sparks.

Part of the issue was the Sparks being able to create so many turnovers but failing to convert on the other end, giving the Wings more rebounding opportunities. Dallas finished with 37 defensive rebounds.

But on several possessions, the Sparks’ size compared to Dallas was clearly visible. Dallas was also much quicker to the ball off of long three-point misses.

After the game, Chiney Ogwumike, who finished second on the team with six rebounds, believed most of the rebounding woes came from the team still getting used to each other and trying to figure out when someone is going to shoot or not.

“I think it comes down to our shot selection, we sort of were missing our flow when it comes to offense. Some shots we weren’t necessarily ready for, but the defense takes that to an advantage. . .we were still trying to feel each other out,” Chiney said. “That should never happen, that rebounding stat, that should never happen.”

If this game was any indication, it’s going to be a challenge for the Sparks this season as they integrate several new players following their offseason roster shakeup. While Chiney and Kristi Toliver were technically part of the team last season, they both opted-out of the bubble. Only Nneka, Brittney Sykes, and Te’a Cooper remain from last season’s active roster.

After the game, Nneka, who is the team captain, was confident that the group will be able to get on the same page.

“I told my team, win, lose, or draw, I wouldn’t want to be with any other group, so that’s how I’m feeling,” Nneka said. “We buckled under pressure and this is a learning experience, but we have a lot of work to do and that the gist of what we talked about in the locker room.”

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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