The Los Angeles Sparks’ road in 2023 ends in Seattle.
On Friday, the Chicago Sky defeated the Minnesota Lynx to clinch the 8th and final playoff spot. That meant that the Sparks were eliminated from playoff contention and their season would end after this game against Seattle. So what are they playing for now? Pride and momentum.
That momentum isn’t exactly there. The Sparks have lost 5 of their last 6 games after that 6-game win streak that nearly turned their season around. But the injury bug returned to decimate the Sparks roster again. Nneka Ogwumike hasn’t played the last three games. Karlie Samuelson has sat out the last two. And we know that various illnesses and injuries have taken Chiney Ogwumike, Lexie Brown, and Nia Clouden out the last few weeks/months. In various periods of the season, the Sparks didn’t have Layshia Clarendon, Azura Stevens, and even Jordin Canada. The Sparks had to sign Rae Burrell, Evina Westbrook, and Destanni Henderson (who has since moved on) to hardship contracts. And we’re not even talking about Katie Lou Samuelson (maternity leave) and Stephanie Talbot (ACL) being out for the season.
But we do know the fight of these plucky Sparks. No matter the result, teams are going to have a battle against them.
The Seattle Storm know very well how these Sparks claw, scratch, and bite them. Yes, they’ve won two games against Los Angeles. But they know they have to get down and dirty against them. Seattle came back from 21 down to get that first win against the Sparks. And then they caught their second win against them in another defensive struggle. They seem to have their game plan set against the Sparks.
“We just really locked in defensively into our schemes, which I think is always really important for us to get stops and get out and run a bit,” said guard Sami Whitcomb after their victory last August 31st. “I think that was huge. Obviously, we turned the ball over too much and that led to a lot of points for (the Sparks). But because we were able to, for the most part, execute defensively, outside of that, it allowed us to play a little bit freer. So I think it just worked this game, and to your point, that other game (their first win in June) as well.”
The Sparks can play muddy, too, and make it difficult for teams to score. But we know that Seattle has Jewell Loyd (freshly re-signed with the team). She gets her points no matter what and in the rare moments that she can’t, she’ll do some playmaking to get the others involved. Whitcomb was a prime example 10 days ago when she scored 14 points in the first half.
So the Sparks just have to find the basket. Only 63 points in that June loss and 61 points at the end of August. There is a chance Nneka plays the final Sparks game of the season while Karlie’s status is questionable. It’d just be nice for the Sparks to have as many healthy players as possible. Head coach Curt Miller brought it up again but the Sparks have not had 11 players in a game at any point in the season. And it looks like they’ll be doing that for the whole 2023 campaign.
The silver lining to these injuries is seeing great performances from various players. Rae Burrell has gotten her career-high in points the last two games. Layshia Clarendon scored her career-high 30 points against the Liberty last Thursday. Azura Stevens has had many performances where she led the team in scoring. And despite what her NBA 2K rating says, Dearica Hamby has played very well this season. And she hasn’t missed a game! The season started two months after she gave birth! That is amazing.
Amazing is how the Sparks would like to end this season. The 2023 campaign has been very trying in many ways but anyone that saw the Sparks play knows that the future is bright with so many talented players. And let’s not forget the draft pick they’ll have come April.
But for now, let’s see the Sparks finish strong.