LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks continue to go through it as the second half of the season officially began on Tuesday as games resumed in the league. Luckily for the Sparks, they get a bit of extra rest as they don’t play until Thursday when they visit Minnesota to play the Lynx for the fourth and final time this season.
The Sparks are 7-13 and currently in a 6-game losing streak. However, they have also been hit with a ridiculous amount of injuries; in Lucas Seehafer’s injury tracker from the Next, it’s been mentioned that the Sparks players have missed 72 total games due to injury/illness (Dallas Wings are second with 53) and that’s not even taking into account Stephanie Talbot (ACL) and Katie Lou Samuelson (pregnancy) missing the season.
“We’ve had 12 different starting line-ups in the first 20 games so trying to find the chemistry and continuity through that hasn’t always been easy. But again, proud of their commitment to prepare and proud of their commitment to compete. And, again, hasn’t always resulted in the win-loss column,” recounted Sparks head coach Curt Miller.
Some good news on the Sparks front is that Layshia Clarendon has been activated and ready to go after a foot injury that sidelined them for more than a month. Unfortunately, Destanni Henderson has been waived in a corresponding move and we just hate to see that happen. Henny helped the Sparks win in that pair of games against the Wings and here’s hoping she can stick in the W.
Lexie Brown has also been mentioned as day-to-day and is going with them on the Sparks’ two-game road trip. There’s a possibility she’ll be suiting up against the Lynx and her presence on the court has been badly needed for the Sparks. Unfortunately, Chiney Ogwumike has been deemed to be out for the next 4-6 weeks, according to general manager Karen Bryant, because of her nagging foot injury.
Injuries aside, there’s a lot to like about the team. Coach Miller mentioned how several players are having career years or having some good stretches. Lexie Brown is having her best year in scoring (13.3 points per). Jordin Canada is having an all-star type of season with 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per (all career-bests). Karlie Samuelson is shooting .475 from three and putting in a career-best 7.8 points per game. Azura Stevens is averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 boards in her last five games (and this corresponds her move to her natural power forward position).
And let’s not forget Nneka Ogwumike’s stellar season: 19.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. She’s had 11 double-doubles this year.
“We did an analysis recently where we looked at the Top 25 players in the history of the WNBA in their 12th season and she’s #1 in many categories,” said Bryant, “I mean, that’s just flat out impressive. I did a podcast last week where we talked about how there’s conversations around whether or not how this relates to her MVP season. We’re having a conversation about that in her 12th season, 7 years removed from her MVP season. That’s insane.”
And Nneka has continued to be the rock for the Sparks as she has been her entire season. She’s going to be key to the team in that second half push.
It was noted that Miller has a history of having that second half momentum.
“That first year in Connecticut was a rebuild year and you look at that last 22 games; we were in the top quadrant with our finish,” said Miller, “While we fell short of the playoffs, there was a lot of momentum that built to then what happened those next 6 years in Connecticut. It was the second half of that first year was the momentum that really carried us into 6 straight playoffs and then in those last four years in the semifinals and finals. It all started with a good second half finish that we were really proud of. We were not in the playoffs but we were proud of the second half. So can we build that in that second half?”
Coach Miller also said that it’s not going to be easy.
“Now, our schedule is difficult. We’re on the road, we play some of the monster teams out East… it’s not gonna be easy. But if we can build some of the momentum, regardless of where we finish in the standings, it is identical to what has happened throughout my career: Bowling Green, Indiana, Connecticut… can we make that happen? I’m confident that we can.”
Curt spent 11 seasons in Bowling Green and his last 9 campaigns were winning seasons. Miller then spent a couple of seasons in Indiana where he also turned it around that second year. So he does have that winning history.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as the Sparks getting healthy. We’ve seen the Sparks compete very well against the Aces, the Sun, and the Wings. Again, the amount of games the Sparks have missed due to illness/injury is astronomical. If they get healthy and if we see that competitive spirit we’ve been seeing throughout the season, they might have a chance here.
Still, the Sparks know they’re building and this year is to help shape up sustainable success in the years to come. They’ll control what they can control in the second half of the season but they are in this for the long haul.
“This first half of the season, we’re gonna talk about it down the road,” said a fired up Karen Bryant, “When we get to where we want to be as an organization and we’re having a very different press conference someday, we’re gonna talk about what this was like: the first half of 2023. And how this relationship continued to be forged, how the relationship with our athletes is being forged in the face of adversity. You’d never wish the kind of season we’ve had so far onto anybody and I hope it becomes an anomaly, something we don’t have to experience again. But I do believe there’ll be a day when we look back on this and have a deep appreciation for how we evolved as an organization during this time frame.”
As mentioned earlier, the Sparks resume their season on Thursday in Minnesota.