August 5, 2022 

After two losses in New York, where do Sparks go from here?

What needs to change against the Atlanta Dream?

Coming into this week, the Los Angeles Sparks sat at 12-17 and in the eighth and final playoff spot. After back-to-back losses to the New York Liberty to start off their final road trip of the season, their playoff hopes appear to be in serious jeopardy.

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For a team that started off the season with high expectations, they are running out of time to salvage what has been a frustrating year to this point. Injuries to key players and inconsistency on the court have the Sparks on the verge of missing the postseason for the second straight year.

As it stands, the Sparks have now fallen to the eleventh spot. They actually have an identical record to the Minnesota Lynx, but the Lynx own the head-to-head tiebreaker. They are a full game back of the Liberty who also own the tiebreaker after their consecutive wins this week.

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The schedule doesn’t get any easier either. Out of the five remaining games for the Sparks, three are against Washington or Connecticut, two of the top five teams in t league. Despite that, the Sparks still have a puncher’s chance at sneaking into the postseason.

It’s not over till it’s over and as Nneka Ogwumike put it after Wednesday’s loss to the Liberty, understanding that they’re still in the mix is one of the things they can take away as they look to close out this road trip strong.

“There’s still a chance. That’s really the only thing that we can kind of recover from all this, there’s still a chance,” Ogwumike said. “Every game has an opportunity and on an individual level every game is an opportunity for different players. O[livia Nelson-Ododa] has been so consistent this season and she stepped up. That’s what we need, that’s really what we need, it’s just really fighting to the finish.”

Up next for the Sparks is the Atlanta Dream on Friday. They’re 1-1 against the Dream this season and this game has major implications for the Sparks’ potential playoff push. The Dream are currently in seventh place at 13-18. A Sparks win would not only give them the head-to-head tiebreaker, but it would also potentially vault the Sparks up in the standings.

To do so though, the Sparks are going to have to show some consistency for a full 40 minutes, something that has plagued them not only on this road trip but all season long.

On Tuesday’s loss to the Liberty, the Sparks came out of the gates strong, only to get blitzed by Sabrina Ionescu who had 15 points in the second quarter and 11 points in the third quarter as New York was comfortably ahead by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.

In Wednesday’s loss to the Liberty, the Sparks had a 20-point lead at one point, only to watch it all slip away. The Liberty outscored them 56-37 over the final three quarters to pull off a dramatic win.

After the latest loss to New York, Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams emphasized the need to simply be patient when holding on to a big lead and trying to get across the finish line.

“I think it’s just the overall factor of just being patient in certain spurts when we have a lead or when the game is real close. Just being a little bit more patient there with certain situations,” Williams said. “I didn’t really see that and that’s what enabled New York to get back in this game.”

While the Sparks are feeling the pressure to get into the postseason, these losses haven’t all been a waste. For the younger players, like Nelson-Ododa, these games represent the opportunity to grow and adapt to pressure.

Getting her first start of the season, Nelson-Ododa responded accordingly with her best game of the season. She tallied eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Williams was pleased with her effort and spoke on how this will help tremendously in the long run.

“Just being on the floor and getting that experience, having minutes, it’s a big factor for us down the line in the future for them to have that feeling,” Williams said.

“I thought tonight was a good crowd here in Brooklyn and we were able to fulfill entertainment for all the fans here and I think the younger players on the floor felt it too. Just getting them rhythm and getting them opportunities to get minutes. It’s going to make the experience even better for them in the long run.”

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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