After a tough road trip, the Sparks returned home to trounce the Indiana Fever 80-62 and outlast the Connecticut Sun 87-77, snapping the Sun’s five-game winning streak.
“We’ve been putting a focus on just playing them slow,” said guard Alana Beard. “We have to finish off those possessions with a rebound.”
Connecticut bested Los Angeles with steals, fast breaks and short possessions early; the Sun scored 11 fast break points during that period. Los Angeles adjusted in the second quarter, reacting faster to the Sun’s run-and-gun style and getting defensive stops.
“Odyssey (Sims), Riquna (Williams), Alana Beard are real, really good on-ball defenders,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “We’re real happy about how we eliminated them one shot, they didn’t get many offensive boards.”
Despite losing four consecutive games early in the season, Connecticut rose to have the best record in the eastern conference. The Sun is also third in the WNBA, out-winning the Phoenix Mercury and the Washington Mystics.
Forward Jonquel Jones leads the Sun in scoring and rebounding with 15.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Guard Jasmine Thomas also contributes 15.0 points per game, shooting at 44 percent in field goals.
Los Angeles still remains second in the league with a 13-5 overall record. Three of the five starters are shooting over 50 percent in field goals, with two starters shooting at least 40 percent in three-pointers. Beard leads the league in steals with 2.1 steals per game and Ogwumike is second in the WNBA in points with 20.4 points per game.
“I either have to start it or supplement it, so that’s kind of what I’m trying to … frame my game around,” Ogwumike said about her ability to get to the rim. “We can’t rely on outside shots and be too passive.”
The bench continues to be a reliable resource for the Sparks. During their game against the Storm, the L.A. bench scored 22 points while the Seattle bench went scoreless. Reigning Sixth Women of the Year Jantel Lavender and guard Riquna Williams averages 6.3 points each.
Lavender, Williams and Sims get at least 16 minutes of play per game.
“We’re getting to know each other,” said guard Chelsea Gray. “I think our comradery is starting to show out there on the floor, both offensively and defensively.”
Throughout July, teams challenged the Sparks; they battled from a 17-point deficit to beat the Washington Mystics 76-69. Then came the 2016 WNBA Finals rematch against the Minnesota Lynx, the Sparks lost control in the first half to earn their first loss after eight games in the 88-77 contest.
Los Angeles also dropped their next game against the Seattle Storm 81-69. However, the Sparks remain perfect at the Staples Center after Monday’s game.
While teams find new ways to challenge the Sparks, members of the team continue to achieve. Center Candace Parker has earned an ESPY for Best WNBA Player and has secured her fourth All-Star selection. Forward Nneka Ogwumike was featured in the 2017 ESPN Body Issue, and guard Alana Beard reached fifth in the WNBA All-time steals list.
As other teams rise to the occasion, the Sparks have a way of giving teams unsolvable problems. Although they are one of the WNBA’s top contenders, Agler noted how the team can improve.
“We’re gonna keep focusing on our defense because that’s sort of our identity,” he said. “If we focus on that and we take pride in it and we really embrace it, then I think that we have a chance to be very, very good this year.”