Sparks finish three-game road trip against Mercury in Phoenix

Ric Tapia-The Sporting Tribune
The Sparks will try to end the current road trip with a 2-1 record as they make their last stop in Phoenix.

PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Sparks (2-5) are on the last leg of their three-game road trip. They will make a stop at the desert to face the Mercury in Phoenix. It will also be their first game of the Commissioner’s Cup, which will run throughout June.

Teams will play other teams within their conference once in the Commissioner’s Cup. The top record from each conference in the Cup will play each other in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship on June 25 where $500,000 will be on the line (but won’t count in the standings). This will be the WNBA’s fourth year of doing the Commissioner’s Cup.

The Mercury (3-5) got off to a great start this season, which saw them upset the Aces in Las Vegas on May 21st. But Phoenix has been mired in a four-game losing skid since. One of those losses was against Connecticut when they were limited to 47 points.

That team is certainly capable. The Merc made a couple of major moves in the offseason. They traded the #3 overall pick to Chicago to acquire Kahleah Copper. And then they were able to get Natasha Cloud through free agency.

Copper has given them a major offensive punch. She is averaging 24.4 points per game and has already had three 30-point games this season. Cloud has been excellent in distributing the ball at 7.1 assists per game.

The ageless Diana Taurasi has been steady this season at 16.1 points per game. She remains dangerous in the perimeter. And the fiery Sophie Cunningham (9.6 points per game) is shooting just under 40 percent from three.

Mercury head coach Nate Tibbetts wants the team to shoot 35 to 40 three-pointers. They’re not quite there at just over 30 but they still lead the league in threes attempted per game.

But it won’t matter if Phoenix can’t stop anybody. They’re the second worst in defensive rating and it shows how badly they need Brittney Griner, who has yet to play a game this year due to a toe injury.

As for the Sparks, they have had trouble taking care of the ball this season. They average the most turnovers in the league at 18 per game.

“Definitely something we’re concerned about; no one wants to turn the ball over 18 times a game,” assistant coach Nola Henry said after Saturday’s loss to Chicago. “It is what it is so we’ll try to adjust and be better going forward. But that’s definitely our emphasis. You want to take care of the ball.”

Still, Dearica Hamby continues to torch in this young season as she has gotten a double-double in six of the seven Sparks games. Kia Nurse has also found her touch as she has hit 10 of 14 threes (.714) in her last two games.

The Sparks have certainly missed Layshia Clarendon, who is still in concussion protocol. And Azura Stevens has yet to play this season. Her size and skill set would’ve given Los Angeles a major option in the frontline.

But basketball never stops in the WNBA. The Sparks hope to end their road trip on a good note before they go back to Crypto.Com Arena for a three-game home stand.

The Sporting Tribune’s Fredo Cervantes contributed to this report.