Before the Sparks began a series of back-to-back games against the Sacramento Monarchs on Friday, Coach Michael Cooper told his players the following two games would likely dictate their chances of claiming a playoff berth.
Following the Sparks' 85-79 loss to the Monarchs before 10,122 at Staples Center, Cooper told his team its postseason picture looks bleak.
In his most frustrated tone during an inconsistency-filled season, Cooper reiterated the same point outside the locker room.
"We'll just flounder and probably work ourselves out of the playoffs," he said.
Technically, the Sparks are still in that picture with 13 games left. With both the Sparks (8-13) and San Antonio Silver Stars (10-13) losing two games in a row, the Sparks are 1 1/2 games behind them for the fourth and final playoff spot.
But the game in between his speeches illustrated what led to Cooper's lighted fuse afterward, something center Lisa Leslie said is "in house."
The Sparks' two-game losing streak has entailed falling to a conference-worst team. First came a loss Tuesday to the New York Liberty, which stands at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, one day after defeating the league's top team, the Indiana Fever. Then came a loss to the Monarchs (7-17), who are last in the Western Conference, the first time the Sparks lost a home game to them in seven contests.
In a game that featured six ties and seven lead changes, the Sparks worked hard to reach a 68-66 lead with 5:57 remaining in the game. But Sacramento went on an 11-0 run for a 77-68 advantage with 2:38 left. Although Noelle Quinn cut it to 77-74 with 1:14 remaining, it wasn't enough.
"We should be used to that by now," said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. "We're always playing from behind."
That was very apparent on Friday.
Although Leslie scored 11 of her season-high 25 points in the first quarter, the Sparks allowed the Monarchs to shoot 73.7% from the field. The Sparks entered the game as the league's best defense, allowing 72.25 points per game. Meanwhile, the Monarchs entered the contest averaging 41.8% from the field.
The Sparks rallied from a 14-point deficit and cut the Monarchs' lead to 46-45 at halftime, but they committed seven turnovers and allowed 18 points in the paint in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter.
"You exert so much energy climbing back into the game," Leslie said. "I don't know if you necessarily don't have it at the end, but we have enough bodies."
But not enough bodies to properly execute. Fair or not, with 13 games remaining, Cooper said "it's on the players now."
"We had players running into each other like they don't even know each other," he said. "A coach can't coach that. I can only coach plays. I can't coach pride on defense. I can't coach on decision-making or shots or passes."