July 9, 2022 

Los Angeles Sparks optimistic heading into the All-Star break

After a rough start to the season, the Sparks have seemingly turned things around

A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Sparks were 5-9, near the bottom of the WNBA standings and approaching one of their toughest stretches of the season. They were coming off a disappointing loss to the Dallas Wings in which they were thoroughly outplayed in the second half. That stretched their losing streak to three games, two in a row since letting go of head coach Derek Fisher. And they had a quartet of tough games ahead, albeit three of them at home, against the Washington Mystics, Chicago Sky, Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces.

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Flash forward to the present and the Sparks managed to go 2-2 in those games, including a very impressive road win in Seattle. They followed that up with three consecutive wins against the Wings, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury, with the Liberty and Mercury wins coming on a back-to-back and with guards Chennedy Carter, Brittney Sykes and Kristi Toliver all out due to various ailments.

With forward/center Chiney Ogwumike added to the injured reserve on Thursday for the Sparks’ last game before the All-Star break against the Storm, their depleted roster finally caught up to them in a lopsided 106-69 loss.

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Even so, the Sparks find themselves at 10-12 and in a three-way tie with the Wings and the Atlanta Dream for sixth place. Considering how this team started off the season, interim head coach Fred Williams is pleased with where the team stands at the break.

“I would assess that we have gotten better, we’ve grown. Stat-wise, [if] you look at it in categories, we’ve gone from 11[th] down to about five or three in certain situations. I just think the team is growing,” Williams said after the loss to the Storm. “We just got to take one game at a time. This is not an easy league.”

To put it simply, the Sparks are scoring with more of a flow and defending at a level closer to the past couple of seasons, when they were among the WNBA’s elite on that end of the floor. It’s been a solid turnaround for a team that had championship aspirations coming into the season but got hit with a road-heavy schedule and not much practice time while trying to integrate several new players.

As shorthanded as the Sparks were against the Storm, they still showed some of the positive trends they’ve displayed the last couple of weeks. They got off to a good start and managed to hang with the Storm until the difference in available players became apparent in the second quarter. They also came out with a strong punch after halftime in an attempt to get back into the game before Seattle regained control.

From the start of the season, the Sparks maintained that all they needed was a little bit of time to work out the kinks and get everyone on the same page. It appears as if that is finally coming to fruition. Guard Jordin Canada has noticed it, and she believes that keeping this consistency is key.

“We’re a really good team, and we just have to be consistent in that,” Canada said after the loss to the Storm. “As you can see, in the third quarter when we came out, we were aggressive, we punched first and we went on our little run. I think we’re all on the same page. We’re bringing the energy and we’re together and we’re aggressive.”

One of the reasons why the Sparks have managed to stay afloat and get right back into the playoff mix is the positive energy surrounding the team. This is a group that enjoys playing together and enjoys being around one another. When adversity hits, as it did early in the season, it can derail a team and have a lasting ripple effect. But this team has managed to stay together and stay focused, and it’s paying off.

With the second half of the season getting underway next week, guard Lexie Brown believes that the Sparks are in good shape and that it’s changing the way teams game plan for them.

“I like how much we enjoy being around each other. I like this team’s energy … We’re clicking on all cylinders. We’re a really hard team to play against,” Brown said after the loss to the Storm. “The last few games or so, a lot of teams just hop into a zone because we just have so many weapons. That’s a credit to them because that’s been our Achilles heel this season is playing against the zone … When we’re locked in and we’re engaged, we’re a really hard team to play against.”

When the Sparks resume play on Tuesday night, they’ll get hit with another tough stretch of games. They’re still in the midst of a seven-game homestand that is balancing out the road-heavy early schedule, but they’ll welcome the Mystics and the Sky, two of the better teams in the league and teams that have won two of the past three WNBA championships.

Williams believes his team is up for the challenge.

“Those teams have been champions, and we want to go out and compete and get better,” he said. “I would say that, right now, we’re right where we want to be, considering where we were, and that was pretty much at the bottom. I always want us to keep fighting for each game, each moment and get better and better.”

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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