LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Sparks came together to win in their home opener against the Phoenix Mercury. It was also an emotional night as Brittney Griner returned to the court for the first time since her detainment in Russia. Griner was able to come back on top and be the highest scorer for the Mercury with 18 points and 6 rebounds but that wasn’t enough to defeat the Sparks, a team that was determined to work well together under the direction of new head coach Curt Miller.
The Sparks may not have started off well in the first quarter as they were scoreless in the first few minutes but they focused on working together to pull past the Mercury defense and successfully execute their offensive plays. Los Angeles only had 6 turnovers. Five players for the Sparks scored in double digits: Chiney Ogwumike, Lexie Brown, Karlie Samuelson, Zia Cooke, and Nneka Ogwumike, who led the team with 17 points.
All eyes were also on 10th overall pick Zia Cooke. The rookie shined as she was able to get 14 points and help set the tone for her team, making both 3-point attempts in her debut. Before the game, coach Curt Miller commented on Cooke saying, “Right now what I’m asking her to do is try find ways to be efficient that’s what she did her senior year at South Carolina that was the big growth in her game her, efficiency. Can she find that efficiency early in her career in the WNBA?” She was definitely efficient as she made her first five shots. Cooke’s shooting helped her team lead 54-41 by halftime and eventually, the Sparks blew out the Mercury.
The Sparks now look to prepare for their game against the defending champions, the Las Vegas Aces.
The Aces won against the Storm in their season opener, 105-64. That margin of 41 points set a new league record for opening day. Previously, the largest margin for an Opening Day game was 36, which was set by the Connecticut Sun against the Aces (yup) back in 2018 the final score being, 101-65. The Aces also set a league record for most defensive rebounds at 44 in one game. Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young led the team in scoring; they both had 23 points each. They had 6 players score in double digits, including Chelsea Gray with 14 points and Candace Parker with 12.
We all remember Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray. Parker began her career with the Sparks back in 2008 and played there for 13 seasons before joining the Chicago Sky for two years, where she won the WNBA title in 2021. She joined an already loaded Aces team in the offseason and hopes to get her 3rd WNBA championship. As for Gray, she played with the Sparks from 2016-2020. She signed with the Aces as a free agent in 2021 so this will be her third season with the team. And of course, she’s part of the Aces’ championship team last season.
We can’t forget last year’s league MVP in A’ja Wilson (she scored 13 points against the Storm last Saturday). She also won MVP back in 2020, making her a two-time winner of the award. She was also named Defensive Player of the Year last season, making her the 5th player to ever achieve this feat. (The last person to be named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same year was Lauren Jackson back in 2007.)
They did all this without head coach Becky Hammon. Hammon was suspended for two games after the league did an investigation on former Aces player Dearica Hamby. We remember Hamby being a big part of the Aces for 5 seasons, when she won 6th Woman of the Year award twice back in 2019 and 2020. She was then traded after the Aces won the championship and we know about the investigation on the alleged pregnancy discrimination. Hamby has a chance for some revenge against her former team on Thursday night. As for the Aces, they will have Natalie Nakase acting as interim head coach as she hopes to lead this star-studded roster to another victory.
The Sparks are not noted to have an explosive offense like the Aces, but they can definitely focus on their defensive abilities. L.A. will try to get a jump on Las Vegas and, hopefully, set the tone for the rest of the game.