LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks are getting the best of both worlds. Not only are they currently on a season-high four-game winning streak but they have been getting a lot of rest to help recover from their nagging injuries. They had an entire week off before they upset the Las Vegas Aces. And then they just had three days off before their next game.
A lot has happened in those standings. The Sparks are now in the 8th and final playoff spot by themselves. They also have the same number of losses as the 7th seed Mystics. And the 5th seed (held by the Atlanta Dream) is within reach as they are only two games behind them. It’s gotten real interesting the last week or so.
On Wednesday, the Sparks are going against the Phoenix Mercury. It’s also going to be a bit of a different atmosphere as the Sparks will be playing their home game at Galen Center in USC.
The Sparks have faced the Mercury three times this season so far. The first game was the season opener and the return of Brittney Griner to the court. That ended in a Sparks runaway win. The second contest happened onn June 2nd. It went overtime, which saw the Sparks take the win. And then on July 9th, a very shorthanded Sparks team lost in Phoenix, where we saw Griner dunk for the first time this season.
Well, this time around, Griner won’t be around due to health and safety protocols. Neither will Shey Peddy due to a concussion.
Who is around is Diana Taurasi. Yes, the 10,000-point woman. While she hasn’t been lighting it up as of late, we all know what she’s capable of. After all, I did just mention that she has scored 10,000 points in her WNBA career. She can get all the buckets.
Diana will have help. Moriah Jefferson can do all the playmaking like she did in their win over the Sparks. The always-fiery Sophie Cunningham hasn’t exactly had the best season but she has averaged 19.0 points per in her last three. 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere has done whatever she’s been asked to do and one of the surprises of the year, Sug Sutton, can do some damage.
It’ll be a huge task for the Mercury, especially without Griner and Peddy. And they’re going to be very susceptible to the Sparks defense as Phoenix still turns the ball over the most in the league.
The Sparks are getting healthier and finally having a consistent line-up. They’ve had the same starting five in the last 6 games and that bodes well for their continuity and chemistry. Their three-point shooting seems to have come around as they have shot .404 from behind the arc in those 6 games. And in that same period, the Sparks defense has been stingy, only allowing 95.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s even more potent in the fourth quarter during the winning streak: 87.2 points per 100 possessions. I expect that Sparks to be deadly on that end come crunch time.
Layshia Clarendon has been on a scoring tear, averaging 18.1 points in their last three games. We all know how consistent Nneka Ogwumike has been her entire career; she could get her 100th career double-double on Wednesday. Jordin Canada has had everyone call her the Most Improved Player this season. Azurá Stevens has been a steady presence at the four position and Karlie Samuelson has made half of her threes (7 for 14) during the winning streak. And while the bench hasn’t put up huge numbers of late, Zia Cooke, Dearica Hamby, Jasmine Thomas, Rae Burrell, and Evina Westbrook (who is on a third 7-day hardship contract) have all made huge plays when needed.
Can the Sparks make it five straight wins? Or will the Mercury spoil the Sparks run and even their season series? With 18 days left in the regular season, time is running out fast.
Let’s see if L.A. continues on their furious run to the postseason.