June 24, 2021 

Sparks hit a bump in the road

Defense is among the WNBA's best, but L.A.'s offense is sputtering

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Brittney Sykes of the Los Angeles Sparks during practice. Photo Credit: Sparks Twitter Account

After an impressive stretch in which the Los Angeles Sparks won four out of five games following a rough 0-2 start to the season, they’ve hit a little bit of a rough stretch recently.

The team has dropped four out of their last five games, with their lone win coming at home on Jun 16 against the Phoenix Mercury.

At the source of the recent skid is the inconsistency on the offensive end. The Sparks have spurts where their offense is crisp and clicking, followed by lulls where they struggle to score.

Part of their scoring issues stems from the fact that both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike remain sidelined due to injury. Both players were contributing a combined 25.4 points per game and were key cogs in what the team wanted to do offensively. In Nneka’s case, she was looking more like her old All-Star self and a player certainly capable of still being the focal point of a team’s offense.

But without those two for the immediate future. Scoring the ball is going to be more of a team effort. It’s going to take the team playing as a collective unit to take advantage of the offensive opportunities they’re able to create, and for players to want to take the shots they get.

For Sparks head coach Derek Fisher, he’s still seeing cases in which players don’t seem too comfortable looking for their own shot.

“It’s sharing the basketball, cutting with pace and force, setting good screens, and players being pros and being able to make the shots that are available to them. We need to continue to work to find a way to be more free offensively,” Fisher said after the loss to the Liberty on Sunday. “We’re still passing up good looks and we’re not converting on some opportunities. We just have to work to get better individually and collectively. We have to be able to score the basketball and it’s not because the opportunities aren’t there.”

The one thing that has been consistent for the Sparks all season long is their defense. They’ve been one of the top teams in the league on the defensive end and it’s been what’s kept them in games and given them a chance to win some of the games they’ve dropped.

Against the Liberty, the Sparks forced 30 turnovers and were able to turn those into 37 points. After the game, the team felt like they should have been able to score more points than they did off those turnovers. It’s all about trying to get both the offense and defense in sync with each other, something that hasn’t always been the case this season.

Brittney Sykes, who has been a strong part of the glue that holds the Sparks defense together, and has recently found a little bit of a rhythm offensively, has seen some improvement when it comes to the offense and defense locking in step.

“I think we’re finally starting to consistently put those tandems in back to back of score, stop, score, or we score, we get a stop, and then we get another score or we keep getting stops on the other end,” Sykes said. “Now we’re learning on the offensive end that when we get 30 turnovers, [Coach[ Fish talks about having more than how many turnovers we had. We’re just trying to feel and learn as we go.”

The injuries that the Sparks have suffered early on has forced players to change their roles on the court and perhaps force them into situations they’re not quite comfortable with yet. As Fisher mentioned, there are instances when a good shot is passed up.

For Te’a Cooper, she’s also seen that take effect and believes the team is still trying to work out their comfort levels with having to take on additional responsibilities. Cooper herself has become one of the team’s best on-ball defenders and has also been thrust into the role of primary ball-handler and playmaker.

“I think we’re playing so hard on the defensive end that sometimes we don’t have legs, we’re kind of short on players,” Cooper said after a recent shootaround. “I think it’s getting used to people playing more minutes and people doing stuff they haven’t had to do and having to do that on both ends of the floor. I think once our legs get used to it, we get comfortable with it, and it starts becoming normal, we’ll be alright.”

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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