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Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray’s big games help Sparks rout WNBA-leading Mystics

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, left, dribbles past Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarend
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

A week of rest and practice did wonders for the Sparks. Just ask the Washington Mystics, who entered Sunday’s game at Staples Center with the WNBA’s best record but left with a 98-81 loss.

The Sparks’ third consecutive victory helped avenge an 81-52 loss to the Mystics on June 18 and added to their franchise history as they became the first WNBA team to win 450 games.

“I hope I am a part of a lot more wins,” forward Candace Parker said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of wins with this franchise. I don’t take for granted that I’ve played for the same franchise for 12 years. Hopefully, we can add to some other records.”

Nneka Ogwumike, who scored a season-high 31 points with 10 rebounds, had five three-pointers, topping her career high of four set this season against Connecticut. Riquna Williams finished with 19 points shooting five for 10 from three-point range. The Sparks are 3-0 with Williams in the starting lineup.

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Chelsea Gray had her first triple-double with 13 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. Gray’s triple-double is the eighth in WNBA regular-season history.

Ogwumike’s eight early points or the Sparks ignited a fire. Williams’ back-to-back three-pointers fueled the flames. The duo combined for 24 of the Sparks’ 29 first-quarter points andfor the second consecutive game the Sparks set a season high for points, as the offensive struggles that plagued them during their four-game skid in June seem to be behind them.

The Sparks shot 16 for 31 from three-point range — a franchise record 51.6% — and 48.6% from the field and buckled down on defense, holding the Mystics to 26.1% shooting from beyond the arc and 42.6% from the field.

“We have to keep playing team defense,” Ogwumike said. “There was a lot of points scored on the board today, but I think having that trust out there amongst ourselves on defense …leading into our shots and offense, is really helpful.”

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The Mystics’ loss adds to a rough weekend. Their game Friday night at Las Vegas was canceled, with Washington leading 51-36 at halftime, after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook the floor of the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Mystics star Elena Delle Donne went down with a possible nose fracture in the opening seconds Sunday after a head-to-head collision with Parker and didn’t return.

Aerial Powers was the leading scorer for the Mystics with 24 points and former Spark Kristi Toliver added 18 points.

“They played really really well tonight,” Toliver said of her old team. “They all were able to use their strengths, which is obviously a fault on us for not defending them the right way. They got going and were able to be the best versions of themselves.”

An illegal screen by Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins led to a shoving match between Hawkins and Williams, and both coaches got involved.

Hawkins, Williams, Derek Fisher and Mike Thibault were accessed technical fouls, but the hostility ensued on the other end of the court and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was given a technical moments later after jawing at former teammate Toliver.

“Coach Thibault and I went out on the court to separate the players from one another, which we’re allowed to do when players are getting physically confronting one another, so that’s how it started,” Fisher said. “I’m not sure what the officials detected in terms of how we got double [technicals]. We weren’t arguing or cussing at each other, so I guess we got techs for being on the court. It happens and it was my first one. So, I guess we broke a lot of records today.”

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The Sparks will travel to face the Dallas Wings at the College Park Center on Tuesday at 11 a.m.


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