September 3, 2020 

How Chelsea Gray’s rebounding sparks LA’s offense

Board work critical in bounceback win

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 2: Candace Parker #3 of the Los Angeles Sparks shoots the ball against the Dallas Wings on September 2, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (NBA Content Network)

The next game comes fast in the ‘wubble,’ there’s hardly any time to dwell on a loss. The Los Angeles Sparks had their nine-game win streak snapped on Monday by the Minnesota Lynx, and they immediately had to focus on their next opponent, the Dallas Wings.

With a much better effort in the second half than the one in the loss to the Lynx, the Sparks were able to hold off Dallas and get back in the win column with an 81-73 victory.

Defensively, the Sparks were able to lock in on Arike Ogunbowale, who is leading the league in scoring with 22.0 points per game. Hounded mainly by Brittney Sykes, who is making a case to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, Ogunbowale shot 4-for-17 from the field and 3-for-8 from three-point range.

Sykes has emerged as one the best defensive players in the league and she’s taken on the role of Alana Beard as the team’s primary defensive stopper. After the game, she spoke about being considered for Defensive Player of the Year.

“Check stats against players that I’ve defended, check their numbers…There’s a lot of things that aren’t on the stat sheet that I bring to my team,” Sykes said. “I believe that should put me in the category for defensive player of the year. Honestly, respectfully, and humbly, I think I should. I don’t think any guard wants to see me on the court.”

Playing their second consecutive game without Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks got solid minutes in the frontcourt, particularly from Kristine Anigwe. Rebounding has been an issue for the Sparks all season, and Wednesday was no different as they were outrebounded 37-36. Anigwe only had two rebounds on the night, but they were big offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher praised Anigwe’s effort, as well as the rest of the frontcourt reserves in the absence of Ogwumike.

“It’s been really important for us to have that additional support upfront when Nneka was in the lineup, just in terms of managing her minutes and Candace’s minutes throughout this type of season,” Fisher said. “Kristine’s had some really bright spots for us this year, she did a lot of good things tonight…Kristine does a great job of working hard every day, we’re happy for her that she’s getting a chance to be successful.”

Also helping to balance things out on the glass was Chelsea Gray. Gray’s always been a decent rebounder, last season she pulled down a career-high 3.8 rebounds per game, 3.4 on the defensive end. Against the Wings, she had a season-high eight boards, all on the defensive glass.

She often started the break herself off a rebound, and after the game, she spoke about the importance of the guards to crash the glass and help the bigs out, especially when perimeter shots lead to long rebounds.

“I definitely want to get on the glass a lot more. When we’re able to get the rebound and push and go in transition, we’re very difficult to guard,” Gray said. “The amount of times we can limit them getting o-boards, our post players have their hands full down low boxing out. A lot of those long shots have long rebounds around the free-throw line area, elbows, that upper paint area. Guards got to come in, swoop those up, and then we can go on the break. It takes breath and energy out of your defense when you have a great possession, and then they come down, have an outside shot and they get an o-board, easy put-back. We just played great 24-second defense and then gave it right back to them. We’ve got to limit the amount of times they’re able to do that.”

The Sparks get little time off — next up is the Storm, Friday night at 10 PM ET.

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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