The Los Angeles Sparks are 1-2 as they go into this rare back-to-back in the WNBA.
The Sparks have lost their last two games but they’ve also been notably shorthanded. Los Angeles had to sign Rae Burrell back on a hardship contract as a ton of rotation players did not play in Las Vegas (Jordin Canada, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Azura Stevens, Jasmine Thomas all didn’t suit up). The Sparks got… humbled, for lack of a better term, after they played a close one against the Aces back in L.A.
On Friday night, they’re facing the team that they opened up against: the Phoenix Mercury. We all remember that as the return of Brittney Griner to the basketball court. The Sparks won that one pretty handily as they showed off that crisp defense and Zia Cooke got to showcase her skills in the second quarter.
This time, the scene is happening in Phoenix. The Mercury themselves have had a long break; they last played on Thursday, May 25th, when they beat the Minnesota Lynx for their first win of the season. They defeated the Lynx with some hot three-point shooting (13/28, .464).
The Mercury certainly didn’t do that against the Sparks in the opener (6/20, .300). And Phoenix, with a huge turnover on their roster (including Griner’s return) in the offseason, has a familiar face back in the rotation in addition to getting a couple of games under their belt. Sophie Cunningham is a fiery perimeter shooter that can help in that department. Wasn’t much of a factor against the Chicago Sky in a loss but against the Lynx, she made three threes on her way to 13 points.
Of course, Phoenix still has Griner and the greatest scorer in WNBA history, Diana Taurasi. Diana didn’t do so well in the opener; she ended with 15 points but off 4 for 15 shooting. The Mercury are full of capable players in Brianna Turner, 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere, former #2 overall pick Moriah Jefferson, and former Texas Longhorn Sug Sutton. And the comforts of home certainly help these athletes.
As for the Sparks, it’s still hard to get a read of them because they haven’t had a full squad. We know there’s something good here but we don’t know how good it really can be. Azurá Stevens and Jasmine Thomas have yet to play. The Ogwumike sisters have had great games but Nneka missed the first Vegas game while Chiney missed the game in Nevada. Jordin Canada and Layshia Clarendon can provide stability in the backcourt but they also missed the game in Vegas. Dearica Hamby has played all three games and it’s pretty incredible that she’s on the court right after giving birth a few months ago. And while Karlie Samuelson is having an awesome season, she’s on a hardship contract.
At least, the Sparks are getting their Opening Night starting line-up back. Azurá Stevens, Jasmine Thomas, and Katie Lou Samuelson (who’ll be out for the season due to pregnancy) are all listed as out. So while not a full squad, it’s certainly closer to that on Friday night than it was the past two games.
The Sparks have a chance to go to .500 in this Commissioners Cup game. It’s always a tough game against Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner but if Opening Night was any indication, the Sparks have a good chance of defeating them even if it’s on the road.