May 24, 2021 

Sparks have shooting, rebounding issues to fix

When it comes to the glass, the Sparks aren’t a big team, to begin with

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The Los Angeles Sparks dropped their second straight, in as many games, on Friday night, 97-69 against the Las Vegas Aces.

At the forefront of the loss were similar issues that plagued the team in their season opener against the Dallas Wings, namely cold shooting and poor rebounding.

When it comes to the glass, the Sparks aren’t a big team, to begin with. Their lack of size is also exacerbated by the injury to Amanda Zahui B. Last season with the New York Liberty, Zahui B. grabbed 8.5 rebounds per game, a career-best.

The Sparks do have Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, who have always been two of the better rebounders in the league, but as Sparks head coach Derek Fisher mentioned after the loss to Dallas, attacking the glass can’t fall to the two of them alone. The Sparks were outrebounded 45-25 against Dallas, and 44-28 against Las Vegas.

For the past few seasons, the Sparks were fortunate to have had Chelsea Gray, one of the better rebounding guards in the league. Gray often attacked the glass and was able to start the fast break.

After the loss to the Aces, Fisher reiterated the need for the wings and perimeter players to start crashing the glass a little more and try to change the early discrepancy in rebounding.

“Our guards are going to have to do a better job of rebounding because our bigger players are working hard and trying to fight on the glass as much as possible. We’re going to need our guards and our forwards to get back in there and scrap some of those rebounds out,” Fisher said. “I think the biggest part of it is we’re getting more shots on goal and just not converting at the rate that we need to try to shorten that gap between rebounds compared to our opponent.”

As mentioned by Fisher, shooting woes have contributed heavily to the Sparks’ rebounding issues. After shooting only 35.9 percent from the field against the Wings, the Sparks had another cold shooting performance against the Aces shooting only 36.5 percent and 29.4 percent from the three-point range.

At times, the defense has been alright as evidenced by the 27 turnovers the Sparks forced against the Wings and the 15 turnovers they forced against the Aces. But they haven’t been able to convert on those turnovers in transition to try and get easy scoring opportunities and jump-start their offense.

After the loss to Las Vegas, Nneka emphasized the need for the team to understand that strong defensive intensity is going to be key to help stop these cold shooting nights and to help generate easy offensive opportunities.

“I think it’s understanding that our defense fuels our offense. It’s more recognition, more court IQ, and of course chemistry as well within the system that Fisher has put in,” Nneka said. “We have the pieces, we have the foundation, it’s really just using those things together. We know what we can do on defense, it’s shown in the last few games. The challenge is understanding how we convert that. With a new team, that synergy is going to come, but we can’t allow the speed bumps to disrupt us getting better in the process.”

While the Sparks haven’t gotten off the start they may have liked, it’s still important to remember that this is essentially a brand new team from last season with a lot of new players to integrate. It’s one of the reasons why Chiney still believes there are positives to take away from these first two games and that smoother sailing could be on the horizon.

“I think we’re getting the kinks out now. Training camp was quick and then we’re into games and I think our team just has to relax a little bit. When we’re in practice, we work hard and we support each other and have energy,” Chiney said. “These two games I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we have high expectations, individually and collectively for ourselves, but that pressure turns into overthinking, over-reading, and not displaying a flow.”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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