Sparks get it done because of defense, Nneka Ogwumike

The Sparks are back over .500 thanks to a strong defense and the play of Nneka Ogwumike.

After those losses against Seattle and Minnesota, Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller talked about having little goals in the fourth quarter. He mentioned rebounding, keeping the Wings at “one and done”, having them call the first timeout in the fourth, and just working on little segments in the quarter (such as how they would do in the first two minutes of the fourth).

“Two nights ago, we let a fourth quarter lead slip that, you know, really hurt us all,” said Miller after the game. “And tonight, we managed the game down the stretch. I thought we were smart with the lead late. A huge road win against a very talented team.”

That huge road win was in Dallas, Texas as the Sparks put the Wings away, 79-61. It was about continuing to be aggressive once they got the big lead and this time around, they succeeded in doing that against Arike Ogunbowale and company.

Just like most (if not, all) teams in the WNBA, the Sparks had a huge makeover. But Coach Miller wanted to lay the foundation down for this team. Much like his teams with the Connecticut Sun, he emphasized defense. He even talked about being overprepared and admitted it’s not easy to be coached by him. But it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.

Speaking of someone who would never be accused of underpreparing, Nneka Ogwumike has had a banner season. In her 12th year with the Sparks, she’s playing better than ever and it would be quite a surprise if she doesn’t make the all-star team. She talked about how their defense has been progressing from the start of the season.

“We have a really great foundation defensively when we think about team defense. There’s always going to be a difficult defensive adjustment in the backcourt, the frontcourt, or both ways,” said Ogwumike, who won the 2016 WNBA MVP award. “I think as we lean into our team defense and teams make adjustments, it’s going to rely more heavily on our one-on-one. Especially our guards tonight really did a phenomenal job. I(Dearica) did a really good job, too. She’s, in my opinion, our best post defender. Just understanding that having that pride to stop someone one-on-one is really important. And also making it difficult to get the looks that they want.”

That defense has been the calling card for the Sparks this season. They’re second in steals, force the most turnovers, and 4th in defensive rating. They are all over the court.

Miller was asked about Nneka Ogwumike’s unbelievable season thus far. He was questioned on whether she gets no respect about her game.

“At times, Nneka doesn’t get the credit that she’s in that upper echelon of star players in this league at the 4 position,” said Miller concerning the 7-time all-star. “But what a terrific start: 9 games in now, averaging a double-double. One of five players in the league averaging a double-double, shooting over 50 percent from the field. She’s asked to guard the post players night in and night out. And she’s asked to lead! Just a terrific start by Nneka.”

Nneka is technically not averaging a double-double but she’s very close to it at 21.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per. She’s also handing out 3.3 assists and she has also been very good at the defensive end with 1.6 steals per game. Still, she might be having her best season ever and she’s been around the league for a while.

And her career has been amazing:

I would be shocked, indeed, if she doesn’t make the all-star team.

The Sparks hope to continue to play at a high level defensively as they go back to Los Angeles for a five-game home stand.

The Sporting Tribune’s Laurie Smith contributed to this report.