The Los Angeles Sparks are now 4-3 after a big win over the Chicago Sky at home. Now the ladies will be going on a bit of a road trip. Their first stop? At the Target Center, where the Minnesota Lynx play.
There was once upon a time when the Lynx and the Sparks were royalty in the WNBA. The Lynx won titles in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. They were denied a title in 2016 by the Sparks, when Nneka Ogwumike made the championship-winning shot in Game 5 of that year’s Finals. The two teams had a rematch in next year’s Finals. That also went the distance but this time, the Lynx were on top.
That was Minnesota’s last championship. It was 6 years ago.
In 2023, things are a lot different now. The Lynx are 1-7. The last of their core, Sylvia Fowles, retired after last season and is set to retire her jersey after their encounter with the Sparks is finished. Other than the 2020 Wubble when they made the semifinals, the Lynx never got close to sniffing a championship since they defeated the Sparks.
With Sylvia Fowles retiring, Napheesa Collier is the #1 option now that she’s back full-time after giving birth last year. She’s averaging 19.8 points (career-best), 6.9 rebounds, and 1.6 steals. Kayla McBride is second in scoring with 14.2 points. We all know she can shoot anywhere. Tiffany Mitchell, who played in Indiana in her first 7 years in the league, is at 11.5 points per.
They had the second pick overall in this spring’s draft and the Lynx chose Diamond Miller. It’s unfortunate that she sprained her ankle more than a week ago and there is currently no timetable for her return. It’s really too bad for the Lynx, who are admittedly in a bit of a rebuild. Diamond is definitely one of the players they’re hoping that can be part of the next great Lynx squad.
The Lynx are flanked by rebounder Jessica Shepard, rookie Dorka Juhasz, and back-up guard Lindsay Allen. Aerial Powers, who is a good scorer but somehow limited this season, is questionable with an ankle sprain. And Natalie Achonwa, who played for the Lynx the last couple of seasons, is out because of maternity leave.
Minnesota has mightily struggled out of the gate. They lost their first 6 games before finally winning a game, beating Washington on June 3rd. Their game against the Liberty was postponed due to the air quality in New York. The Lynx went back home, where they lost to the Fever on Friday.
The Lynx turn the ball over quite a bit; they have the second most in the league behind Phoenix. They’ve also struggled to score (third fewest points per game in the league). It’s looking like a perfect match-up on paper for the Sparks, who like to be physical and, need I remind you, force the most turnovers in the league.
Nneka Ogwumike continues to be the rock for the team, as she pretty much has been her entire career with Los Angeles. She just had her fourth consecutive double-double (19 points and 14 boards against Chicago) and has been getting inside at will. Dearica Hamby had her best game of the season against the Sky when she scored 16 points. And Jordin Canada continues to raise hell on both ends of the floor.
Nneka brought it up at the post presser herself: the Sparks just keep their composure. They don’t get too high and they don’t get too low; they just play. They didn’t seem to panic too much after losing a 21-point lead against Seattle; they were still in it until the very end. And they didn’t panic when Chicago cut into their lead on Friday. They won going away with a huge run at the end. The Sparks will always fight but they seem to do it in a calm and collective manner, which is quite frightening when you think about it.
Layshia Clarendon didn’t play in the second half against Chicago; she is said to be out with a foot injury. Chiney Ogwumike didn’t play on Friday and continues to be questionable with her own foot ailment. And Katie Lou Samuelson is out due to maternity leave.
The Sparks have a good chance to go two games above .500. But on any given day, one team can beat another. Los Angeles just has to make sure that they don’t take their foot off the gas pedal if and when they get going.