Sparks lose sixth straight to limp into Olympic break
Finally, it’s over.
The Sparks, reeling from injuries, hobble into the Olympic break on a six-game losing streak after an 86-61 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, but have hopes for relief on the other side of the monthlong break.
Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, who haven’t played since June 3 and May 28, respectively, are expected to return with Kristi Toliver after the layoff. The Ogwumike sisters, both nursing knee injuries, may appear in the Olympics where they hope to represent Nigeria if they are given FIBA approval. Toliver, who suffered a laceration above her eye on June 24, missed six games.
“It’s not that we assume that we’re going to magically be better because people are back, but I think we’re excited about the opportunity to reflect and reassess,” said coach Derek Fisher, who noted how the absences allowed newer players to get more experience.
Sparks star and WNBA leader Nneka Ogwumike fit in well among the stars of the movie ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy.’ A look at why.
“[The break] could be hit or miss depending on the team, but I think for us, we view it as a positive because we’ll be able to get a chance to really recalibrate, get ourselves back together again and come out playing some better basketball with more bodies out on the floor.”
The three injured stars watched from the bench Sunday as the Lynx (12-7) made their first nine shots and raced out to a 16-point lead. After a halftime buzzer beater from Brittney Sykes injected life into the listless home team, the Sparks (6-13) scored the first six points of the third quarter to trim the deficit to six.
Guard Erica Wheeler spurred the run with an assist, a steal and a layup. The former All-Star had 14 points and six assists but didn’t have an assist in the fourth quarter after she went to the bench when an 11-0 Lynx run pushed the lead to 15.
“The one thing you can’t question is our effort,” Wheeler said. “We’re down bodies and we’re still trying to get it done. … Going into this break, I think it came at the perfect time. We all need it.”
In addition to getting three-fifths of their starting lineup back, the Sparks are preparing to welcome back Russian center Maria Vadeeva, who has been overseas since 2019.
Even with a full complement of stars, it will be difficult for the Sparks to recover after the losing streak left them tied for the WNBA’s second-worst record. Just five of their final 13 regular-season games are at home.
Only Indiana (4-16) has a worse record than the Sparks. The cellar-dwellers face each other to open the second half of the season on Aug. 15 in the Sparks’ 2021 Staples Center debut. After playing 11 games at the Convention Center, the team is looking forward to the homecoming.
“When we get back, our back’s against the wall,” Wheeler said.
“We don’t have nothing to lose. So for us, I think we’re all just going to come out and bring it.”
Napheesa Collier paces Lynx to big lead entering fourth quarter
The Sparks threatened briefly, but the Lynx used a late 11-0 run to take a 64-49 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Napheesa Collier is controlling the game with 23 points and seven rebounds.
The Sparks retaliated to the Lynx run with five straight points. It was an encouraging end to a quarter that also started well for the home team. The Sparks score the first six points after halftime to cut the deficit to six points.
Erica Wheeler’s 14 points and six assists lead the Sparks.
Sparks score back-to-back baskets to open second half
The Sparks are down eight, 43-35, after back-to-back buckets from Amanda Zahui B. and Ercia Wheeler to open the third quarter. This is the closest the Sparks have been since the first quarter.
Brittney Sykes sinks buzzer-beater before halftime
The Sparks needed that.
Brittney Sykes sank a baseline fadeaway jumper as time expired to give the Sparks a jolt of energy entering halftime. The Sparks trail 43-31 after their defense finally entered the chat.
The Lynx shot 80% from the field in the first quarter, but the Sparks held Minnesota to 5-of-15 shooting in the second quarter.
The Sparks put together an 8-0 run early in the second quarter that got them within single digits for the first time since the 4:39 mark of the first quarter. Wheeler was the catalyst for the surge as she scored or assisted on all eight points. The guard has nine points and five assists in the first half. She had just two points in the first quarter.
Amanda Zahui B. (seven points, one assist) and Karlie Samuelson (three points, one assist, two rebounds) are the only other Sparks players with assists.
Napheesa Collier has a game-high 12 points with six rebounds.
Lynx dominate first quarter with nearly perfect shooting
The Sparks trail 29-13 after the first quarter as the Lynx offense is overpowering the Sparks.
Minnesota made nine baskets to start the game and was 12-for-15 from the floor in the first quarter. One of the misses was a last-second shot in traffic from Kayla McBride as the buzzer sounded. Napheesa Collier leads the team with nine points as all five of the Lynx starters have scored.
Amanda Zahui B.'s five points leads the Sparks. Erica Wheeler has four assists on the team’s five made field goals. The Sparks are five-for-18 from the field.
Sparks, Lynx underway at the Los Angeles Conventer Center
The Lynx won the tip and we’re underway at the Convention Center.
The Sparks forced a turnover on the first possession and turned it into a layup from Bria Holmes for the first bucket of the game.
Bria Holmes returns to Sparks starting lineup
Bria Holmes will start for the Sparks against the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday as they try to end a five-game losing streak entering the Olympic break.
Holmes, averaging 4.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, hasn’t started since June 20.
Here’s the entire starting lineup for the Sparks:
- Erica Wheeler
- Brittney Sykes
- Bria Holmes
- Nia Coffey
- Amanda Zahui B.
The Sparks are still without Nneka (knee) and Chiney Ogwumike (knee) and Kristi Toliver (eye).
And the starters for the Lynx:
- Napheesa Collier
- Damiris Dantas
- Sylvia Fowles
- Kayla McBride
- Layshia Clarendon
The Lynx have won six straight games. They will be without Crystal Dangerfield (shoulder), Natalie Achonwa (knee), Rennia Davis (foot) and Aerial Powers (elbow).
From Sparks to the Goon Squad: Nneka Ogwumike transforms for ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’
Nneka Ogwumike’s agent called with an offer a few years ago. The Sparks forward had never done anything like it before. It might be out of her comfort zone. But it could be huge.
Want to be in “Space Jam?”
“Say less,” Ogwumike responded immediately.
Already a star on the court for the Sparks and a vocal leader for the WNBA as its players association president, Ogwumike added actor to her résumé after working on the film “Space Jam: A New Legacy” that premieres Friday. Ogwumike teams with Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Diana Taurasi and Anthony Davis to form the Goon Squad that faces LeBron James and the Tune Squad in a remake of the 1996 film starring Michael Jordan.
The original movie once brought Ogwumike and her three younger sisters together in front of the TV. They obsessed over the soundtrack as much as the sight of Bugs Bunny holding a bottle of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” or Jordan’s arm stretching the length of the court for the final basket. The offer to participate in the adaptation for a new generation felt too good to be true.
Sparks go winless on three-game homestand as injuries continue to take a toll
Seeing three top players on the bench dressed in street clothes is getting to be a familiar, yet tiring sight for the Sparks as they lost their fourth straight game Sunday, falling 84-74 to the Seattle Storm at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
With injured stars Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver reduced to coaching roles, Brittney Sykes had 19 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high five assists, but the Sparks (6-11) were overpowered by 21 points from former most valuable player Breanna Stewart and 20 points and nine rebounds from center Ezi Magbegor.
Losers of six of their last seven, the Sparks went winless in their three-game homestand. They now travel to Seattle for a rematch Wednesday before hosting the Minnesota Lynx next Sunday in the final game before a monthlong Olympic break.
Storm pull away in fourth quarter as Sparks lose fourth straight
The Sparks lost their fourth straight game Sunday, falling 84-74 to the Seattle Storm at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Brittney Sykes had 19 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high five assists, but the Sparks (6-11) were overpowered by 21 points from former MVP Breanna Stewart and 20 points and nine rebounds from center Ezi Magbegor.
The Sparks went winless in their three-game homestand and now travel to Seattle for a rematch Wednesday before returning home to play the Minnesota Lynx next Sunday in the final game before the month-long Olympic break. For an injury-riddled Sparks team, the break can’t come soon enough.
The Storm (14-4) had 11 assists in the first half, outnumbering the Sparks’ total made field goals of 10. Free throws — seven-of-seven in the first half — were the only saving grace for the Sparks in the first quarter.jewwe
With knee injuries still hampering Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, and Kristi Toliver missing her fourth game with an eye injury, point guard Erica Wheeler is forced to shoulder the scoring load for the Sparks.
The 2019 All-Star MVP struggled early, making just one-of-six shots from the field in the first half. After missing an open three-pointer in the second quarter, Wheeler stomped her foot in frustration, yelling “You gotta make that E!”
Wheeler finished with 19 points, helping the offense kick into gear during the third quarter. The Sparks made 10-of-16 shots from the field in the period and took an eight-point lead after a 12-0 run. But the Storm kept L.A. scoreless from the field for the final two minutes to get within two going into the fourth.
The reigning champions had little trouble finishing it off from there.
Magbegor scored eight points in the fourth quarter in a potent one-two punch with Stewart against the undersized Sparks.
Magbegor, who averages four points per game, emerged as a surprising lift off the bench at the perfect time for the Storm. The team was without its second-leading scorer Jewell Loyd (18.1 points per game) because of an ankle injury. Guard Epiphanny Prince scored a season-high 18 points in Loyd’s starting position.
Former UCLA star Jordin Canada had six points and five assists.
Sparks comeback in third to take lead
The Sparks’ offense woke up in the third quarter to help the team take a 58-56 lead entering the fourth.
The Sparks were 10-of-16 from the field in the third quarter and put together a 12-0 run that put them ahead by as many as eight. But the reigning champions kept the Sparks scoreless from the field for the final 2:13 and finished on an 8-2 run to make it a two-point game heading into the fourth.
Brittney Sykes had 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Erica Wheeler has 11 points and four assists, while Nia Coffey has broken out of her scoring slump with 11 points on four-of-11 shooting. The forward was scoreless in her previous two games.
Sparks offense struggles in first half
The Sparks trail by nine, 39-30, at halftime, but considering that they’re shooting 29.4% from the field compared to Seattle’s 48.5%, it feels like things could be a lot worse for the home team.
Free throws are keeping the Sparks in it (seven-of-seven from the stripe). Brittney Sykes has nine points, five rebounds and two assists.
Erica Wheeler has seven points, but has only made one shot. The guard is one-of-six from the field with four free throws.
Breanna Stewart is leading the Storm with 10 points.
Former UCLA star Jordin Canada has two points and four assists.
Storm take early lead
The Storm lead 20-15 after the first quarter.
Brittney Sykes is carrying the Sparks offensively with seven points on three-of-six shooting. The rest of the team is two-of-14 from the field.
The Storm are without guard Jewell Loyd, who is out with an ankle injury. Epiphanny Prince started in her place and has six points with two assists. Breanna Stewart has seven points.
The Sparks gave up a 7-0 run late in the first quarter that resembled the late first-quarter slump against the Las Vegas Aces that led to a blowout loss last Wednesday. But after a timeout, Erica Wheeler stopped the bleeding with two free throws. Wheeler had four points in the first quarter.
Karlie Samuelson gets start against Storm
Karlie Samuelson is making her second start of the season as she faces her older sister Katie Lou Samuelson’s Seattle Storm.
The Sparks are also starting Erica Wheeler, Brittney Sykes, Amanda Zahui B. and Nia Coffey.
Katie Lou joins her sister in the starting rotation for the Storm alongside Sue Bird, Epiphanny Prince, Breanna Stewart and Mercedes Russell.
Karlie, Katie Lou Samuelson face off for first time
Playing with her younger sister overseas was a dream for Karlie Samuelson. But this — getting to share a WNBA court — is something even bigger.
“This moment is definitely surreal,” Karlie said Sunday morning alongside her younger sister Katie Lou during a video conference. “I’m just taking it in.”
Sunday’s matchup between Karlie’s Sparks and Katie Lou’s Storm is the first time the sisters have ever played against each other in an official game.
Karlie, two years older than Katie Lou, is a WNBA journeywoman who is on her fifth stint with the Sparks. The Stanford alumna first signed with the team in 2017, but didn’t make the final cut because of a foot injury. She has alternated between brief WNBA contracts and overseas, where the sisters who both attended Mater Dei united for Spain’s CB Avenida last year.
“That was living a dream playing together,” Karlie said.
While in Spain, Katie Lou learned that she had been traded from the Dallas Wings, the team that drafted her fourth overall 2019, to Seattle. When the WNBA schedule was released, Karlie made plans to attend the July 4 game to cheer on Katie Lou.
By game time, she was doing a lot more than just cheering.
Karlie signed with the Sparks in June to help the team overcome a rash of injuries. She scored a career-high 13 points on five-of-five shooting in a win over the Washington Mystics on June 24.
Katie Lou, a former UConn star, was watching from her apartment, screaming and cheering with every made shot. Her sister is the best shooter she’s ever seen or played with, Katie Lou said, and just needed the opportunity to prove it.
“For me to see her thriving on this team, it’s really awesome because she’s put in so much time for herself and so much time into my career too,” Katie Lou said. “She deserves this more than anyone I know.”
Noelle Quinn returns home on new journey as Storm coach
In choosing how she would be known in the Twitterverse, Noelle Quinn didn’t pick the obvious. She didn’t choose her own name for her Twitter handle. No, @IAmSoLA45 chose her city.
The showcase of Quinn’s Los Angeles roots and jersey number that she wore at Torrance Bishop Montgomery High and UCLA before taking it to the WNBA and overseas showed her allegiance to her hometown and the sport she learned there.
Only recently did Quinn, who was promoted to head coach of the Seattle Storm on May 30, change her Twitter handle to her name, but make no mistake, @Noey_Quinn is still so L.A.
“On my chest and on my back, all around,” Quinn said during a recent phone call.
Lauren Cox quickly gets acclimated to new Sparks teammates
Lauren Cox was driving home to Texas on Tuesday when a phone call changed her plans. Her agent told her the Sparks wanted her on a plane that night.
“I was just kind of shocked. I didn’t think it would happen that quickly,” Cox said Friday before Sparks’ 66-58 home loss to the Las Vegas Aces.
The former Baylor star and No. 3 overall pick in 2020 WNBA draft was waived by the Indiana Fever (1-16) on Sunday and signed with the Sparks for the remainder of the season on Wednesday.
The call came with four hours remaining in her drive to her hometown, so she had just an hour to pack and get to the airport Tuesday night before making her Sparks debut hours after her signing was announced.
She logged a career high in minutes played during a Wednesday night loss to the Aces without attending shootaround. There was no time to get acclimated to her teammates, with Cox required to get her physical before the game so she could get cleared to play.
Cox stepped onto the court without learning plays. Friday morning was the first time she practiced with the Sparks.
She joined a scrappy team that hounded Aces’ star Liz Cambage and led the potent Las Vegas squad 56-54 with 4:43 left Friday night. The Aces, however, proceeded to hit tough shots and pulled away for the win.
A’Ja Wilson led the Aces (13-4) with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Erica Wheeler led the Sparks with 15 points, while Amanda Zahui B. had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Cox chipped in five points off the bench, primarily contributing on the defensive end.
While she has had little time to get to know the Sparks, Cox joined two former teammates on the Los Angeles roster — former Baylor player Te’a Cooper and former Fever player Wheeler. Cooper assisted Cox on her first basket in a Sparks jersey.
“I think it definitely helps that we have spent time together in college. I know it’s been awhile since then, but we do kind of have that connection,” Cox said of her bond with Cooper. “So it was fun just to be out there with her again, get to see her again. And I’m sure the Baylor fans loved it.”
Cox is quickly forging friendships with the rest of her Sparks teammates.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting to know my new teammates. I haven’t been here that long. But I can already tell that this team is really close. And they all care about each other,” Cox said.
“And I’m just really excited to get to know everyone and become a part of the family.”
Getting cut by the Fever and the effort required to quickly join the Sparks was just the most recent obstacle that occurred in Cox’s brief WNBA career.
One word to describe her journey so far would be unexpected.
Her rookie season coincide with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cox tested positive for the coronavirus before her rookie campaign, forcing her to miss all of training camp and the Fever’s first four games of the season.
She returned to the Fever for 14 games in the WNBA bubble before a left knee injury sidelined her for the final four games of the season.
Cox is now looking forward to starting fresh with the Sparks.
“I did not expect anything that has happened to me. … It’s definitely been a lot,” Cox said. “But I’m happy with where I am now. I’m super grateful to the sports organization.”
Sparks fall to Aces, begin to put pieces together
Friday night’s game between the Sparks and the Las Vegas Aces was a complete turnaround from their Wednesday contest — it was close from start to finish.
It was an interior battle on both ends of the floor during the Sparks’ 66-58 loss to the Aces Friday night, a major improvement from a 99-75 loss Wednesday night.
The Sparks (6-10) used Lauren Cox, Nia Coffey and Amanda Zahui B to disrupt the Aces’ Liz Cambage on defense. And as other players attacked the rim, it was already clogged by the trio — forcing the Aces (13-4) to do what the Sparks have had to all season, make tough shots.
“Lauren’s size definitely helps us, she has a good feel for the game on the defensive end of the floor and she altered a lot of shots tonight and overall just did a really good job. We continue to be really happy for her first of all that she’s getting these opportunities,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said.
The defense displayed once again that it can make or break the Sparks, holding one of the highest scoring offenses in the WNBA that scored 99 points against them on Wednesday to only 66 points.
“To see the way the group is fighting on defense. Coming back after Wednesday night where Vegas scored 99 points and put up this type of effort, it just says a lot about our players and they wanted come back and have each other’s back tonight and they fought hard on defensive end and even offensively did some good things,” Fisher said.
On the other end of the floor, the Sparks worked through Erica Wheeler. With more depth inside, they also had the option to swing the ball into the paint and redistribute or reset the offense.
“I’m proud of the team on both ends, defense and offense. I think we played a better game today. I think that we were just moving the ball side to side, into the paint and finding the open man,” Wheeler said in her postgame press conference.
The Sparks used the shot clock to find the best shot or driving opportunity and got help from their defense to create transition points.
Everything came together for the Sparks in the fourth quarter, with Los Angeles claiming a 56-54 lead with 4:43 left Friday night. The Aces, however, proceeded to hit tough shots and pulled away for the win.
A’Ja Wilson led the Aces with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Erica Wheeler led the Sparks with 15 points, while Amanda Zahui B. had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Cox chipped in five points off the bench, primarily contributing on the defensive end.
During Friday’s loss to the Aces, the Los Angeles Convention Center was loud. The team was converting on shots and drawing fouls while the defense continued to apply pressure.
“Some days are harder than most, but I felt like my team had my back,” Wheeler said. “I think we all were connected on both ends, offense and defense. So the energy was good tonight, just gotta keep building off that.”
It was a major step in the right direction for a Sparks team that still has a tough schedule ahead of it.
The Sparks will close their homestand on Sunday against the Seattle Storm at 6 p.m.
Sparks trail Aces at halftime but energy could turn the tables
It’s halftime at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The Sparks trail the Las Vegas Aces 38-30, but the Sparks are pushing to close the gap.
The transition game is where the Sparks have found their most success, and they rely on their defense to ignite it.
The Sparks are like a freight train when running on the transition, usually led by the shortest player on the court — Erica Wheeler.
Whether it’s her finishing the bucket or dishing out an assist, she has been the nightly catalyst.
Lauren Cox has provided a big lift for the Sparks.
With Cox’s 6-foot-4 presence inside, it helps spread the defense and makes players question their path to the basket.
Cox is working with fellow posts Nia Coffey and Amanda Zahui B. The Sparks struggled with foul trouble in the past, and coach Derek Fisher said he’d be more aggressive with substitutions to offset fatigue and foul issues.
Sparks starting lineup change could bring new life
The Sparks are nearing the end of another homestand. With their second of three games set for Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces, the Sparks need to steal a game or two against some of the top teams in the league.
After falling to the Aces on Wednesday, the Sparks’ game plan was to bring the intensity from the get-go. To do so, they started two of their most active players on both sides of the ball, Te’a Cooper and Brittney Sykes.
It will also be the second game Lauren Cox is with the Sparks. She had her first practice with her new team Friday morning.
Friday was the Sparks’ sneakerhead game, and the athletes and fans broke out all of their most fire kicks.
On top of the pregame fun, July 2 is also Nneka Ogwumike’s birthday, so the Sparks are hoping to represent the league MVP in the best way — with a win.
Aces overpower Sparks at home
The Las Vegas Aces, with their top-ranked offense, found little resistance against the depleted Sparks in a 99-75 victory at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (17 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-foot-8 Australian Olympian Liz Cambage (13 points, 11 rebounds) overpowered the undersized L.A. frontcourt that called on new addition Lauren Cox for reinforcement.
Cox, who signed with the team Wednesday morning after being cut from the Indiana Fever on Monday, finished with four points and five rebounds in 18 minutes despite never practicing with the Sparks (6-9). Forward Amanda Zahui B. was the Sparks’ only consistent offensive threat with 22 points on nine-of-20 shooting. The rest of the team was 17-of-62, led by 15 points from guard Te’a Cooper.
Seven of the nine players who took the court for the Sparks on Wednesday were in their first year with the team. The other two, Cooper and Brittney Sykes (11 points), were in their second seasons. The team that enjoyed a solid foundation with stars like Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike are in a full rebuild as Ogwumike is injured.
Pieces of the Sparks’ old guard returned to L.A. to give their former team a glimpse at what they lost. While the Sparks’ offense struggled to find any rhythm, the Aces surgically dissected the L.A. defense with Chelsea Gray at the helm.
The former Sparks point guard had eight assists to off-set an off shooting night in her first game back in L.A. as a visiting player.
After injuries threatened her career early, Gray earned three All-Star appearances with the Sparks and helped the team to the 2016 WNBA championship. The point guard will represent Team USA in the Olympics in Tokyo.
“I feel like she really grew up and came into her own here and she deserves credit,” said Sparks coach Derek Fisher, who coached Gray for two seasons. “Chelsea’s a great player, a great person, everything coming her way, she deserves.”
The Sparks welcomed the “Point Gawd” back to L.A. with a highlight reel played in the first quarter that also featured clips of Riquna Williams’ Sparks tenure. The guard also joined the Aces this season after four seasons in L.A. and had 14 points and eight rebounds Wednesday.
Gray made her mark on the game immediately, dishing out five assists in the first quarter as the Aces scored 10 straight points in the final 2:18 of the quarter. The Sparks scored the opening basket of the second quarter, but never got closer than seven the rest of the game as the lead swelled to 26 in the fourth quarter.
A’ja Wilson notches double-double as Aces continue to roll
Reigning MVP A’ja Wilson has 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Aces lead 80-59 after three quarters.
The Sparks have 22 points from Amanda Zahui B., who is nine-of-17 from the floor. Erica Wheeler is the only other Sparks player in double digits with 11 points.
The Aces have 22 assists on 31 made field goals while the Sparks have just 12 assists on 23 made shots.
LeBron James, Damian Lillard sitting courtside
NBA stars LeBron James and Damian Lillard are taking in the Sparks game courtside Wednesday night. James is sitting across from the Las Vegas bench while Lillard, who arrived early in the second half, took a seat on the baseline.
The Aces are leading 66-49 with 5:54 to go in the third.
Aces pull away in second quarter
The Sparks have no anwers for the potent Aces offense as Las Vegas leads 56-37 at halftime.
Amanda Zahui B. has nearly half of the Sparks’ points with 18 on seven-of-14 shooting. The rest of the Sparks are seven-of-27 from the field.
Former Sparks guards Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams are making an impact for their new team. Gray has seven assists, which is just one assist fewer than the entire Sparks team.
Williams has nine points and a team-high seven rebounds. That’s not a typo. Indeed, the 5-foot-7 guard is outrebounding her star frontcourt teammates A’ja Wilson (eight points, six rebounds) and Liz Cambage (11 points, six rebounds).
Vegas finishes first quarter on 10-point run
The short-handed Sparks were hanging tough early, but the Aces then showed why they have the best-ranked offense in the league. Las Vegas finished the first quarter with 10 unanswered points to take a 28-19 lead.
Amanda Zahui B. was carrying the Sparks with 14 points and two rebounds. Jackie Young has 11 points for the Aces and former Sparks guard Chelsea Gray has five assists.
Game recognize game: NBA stars support Sparks courtside
As the Sparks tipped off against the Aces, former NBA star Dwyane Wade and his family sat courtside to take in the action. The team already hosted Lakers forward Anthony Davis this season and former Lakers guard Quinn Cook.
Wounded Sparks trying to keep pace against WNBA’s best
Struggling to keep their wounded team above .500, the Sparks face their toughest stretch of the season with four games in eight days against the WNBA’s top two teams. Coach Derek Fisher isn’t backing down from the challenge.
After games against the Aces (11-4) on Wednesday and Friday, the Sparks (6-8) host the reigning champion Seattle Storm (12-4) and then travel to play Seattle on July 7.
With five games left until the Olympic break, the Sparks are in danger of dropping out of the playoff race. The monthlong hiatus could be a welcome respite for the team that’s battled injuries all season, but the Sparks are focused on staying together through the brutal stretch.
“It’s keeping that next-man-up mentality,” guard Brittney Sykes said.
Roster roll call
The Sparks added three players to their rotating roster Wednesday before their home game against the Las Vegas Aces and all three will be available for the game.
Guards Bria Holmes and Karlie Samuelson returned on hardship contracts after they were cut earlier this week. Holmes, who was on the team’s roster entering the season, was waived Monday as teams across the league faced a deadline for midseason cuts to manage salary caps. Samuelson’s first hardship contract was terminated before she was re-signed Wednesday.
Forward Lauren Cox, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft, was signed for the rest of the season Wednesday. She was cut from the Indiana Fever this week. The 6-foot-4 former Baylor star has yet to practice with the Sparks and it’s unlikely she will play significant minutes Wednesday, but head coach Derek Fisher expressed optimism about what Cox can bring to the team.
“We expect the potential that we’ve seen in terms of her ability to do a lot of things offensively in terms of back to the basket or face to the basket,” Fisher said before Wednesday’s game. “A good passer, smart basketball IQ on the offensive end. And defensively as well, [she] has a really good feel for the game, understands how to poisition herself to contest shots to make things difficult for opponents and can also clean up the glass with her size.”
Cox’s rookie season was interupted by a positive coronavirus test and a knee injury that limited her to 14 games. She averaged 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. This season, she averaged 1.4 points and two rebounds with 8.6 minutes per game in 14 appearances for the Fever.
Reinforcements are welcome for the Sparks, who are still without Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Jasmine Walker and Kristi Toliver. Toliver will miss her second straight game with an eye injury.
Sparks waive Bria Holmes, terminate contract of Kristine Anigwe
The Sparks announced Monday that they waived guard Bria Holmes and terminated the contract of forward-center Kristine Anigwe.
The 6-foot-3 Holmes averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 18.8 minutes while playing in 12 of the Sparks’ 14 games. Anigwe, 6-4, appeared in seven games, averaging 3.9 points and 15.1 minutes.
Anigwe was signed on June 4 under the hardship exception rule following injuries to the sisters to Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.
Sparks can’t keep up with Diana Taurasi and Mercury in loss
PHOENIX — Diana Taurasi scored 25 points and became the first player in WNBA history to score 9,000 career points in her return from a five-week absence as the Phoenix Mercury beat the Sparks 88-79 on Sunday.
Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer, had been out with a fractured sternum. The 39-year old guard was fouled as she made a driving layup and converted the three-point play to reach the 9,000-point plateau. No other player in WNBA history has scored as many as 7,500 points and only Tina Thompson (7,488) and Tamika Catchings (7,380) have reached the 7,000-point mark.
Erica Wheeler made back-to-back baskets to cap a 7-0 run by the Sparks and tie it at 47-all early in the third quarter but Phoenix (7-7) scored 13 of the next 15 points to take the lead for good. Taurasi made two 3-pointers in the final minute of the period to push the Mercury’s lead to 14 points going into the fourth.
Sparks forward and Houston native Nneka Ogwumike shares thoughts on Juneteenth, which commemorates the day the last of the slaves were declared free.
Wheeler led the Sparks (6-8) with 21 points and Te’a Cooper added 20. Cooper, who scored a career-high 26 points in Thursday’s win over the Washington Mystics, has back-to-back games of at least 20 points for the first time in her career. The guard, who played at Tennessee and South Carolina before finishing her college career at Baylor, was a second-round pick by Phoenix in the 2020 WNBA draft but was cut by the Mercury before signing with the Sparks prior to the beginning of the season.
It was the third consecutive game between the teams and their final regular matchup of the season.
Bench powers Sparks to win over Washington Mystics
The Sparks’ bench is short, but it’s strong.
Three bench players — Te’a Cooper, Karlie Samuelson and Brittney Sykes — combined for 53 points in the Sparks’ 89-82 win over the Washington Mystics on Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Cooper (26 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Samuelson (13 points) set career highs for scoring while Sykes added 14 points, one steal and two blocks.
Cooper and Sykes have carved out substantial roles for the Sparks (6-7) during the past two seasons, but Samuelson emerged as a surprise. The Orange County native joined her hometown team for the fifth time since 2017 in June, bouncing on and off the roster because of injuries and a wealth of talent in the competitive league. The Sparks, suffering from injuries, signed her under a hardship exception.
When asked what Samuelson would be able to do for the team on such short notice, Fisher replied confidently that the Mater Dei alumna was a pro. She would find a way to make the most of her minutes.
Samuelson proved it Thursday.
She had six points in the fourth quarter, matching her previous career high in a game, and made all five of her shots from the field, including three three-pointers.
“She’s everything that’s right about the game of basketball and team sports,” head coach Derek Fisher said of Samuelson.
Samuelson’s effort helped the Sparks hold off a Washington team that boasted two members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tina Charles (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Ariel Atkins (12 points, seven rebounds, seven assists). Guard Leilani Mitchell led the Mystics (7-7) with 26 points and made six-of-eight three-pointers.
Between brief WNBA stints during the past two seasons, Samuelson continued playing overseas. She’s quickly earned the respect of her teammates and coaches for her hard work.
“For her to have been in this situation and get the opportunity and for her to knock the door down, I love that,” Cooper said with a smile while pounding a fist to her chest. “I love people who get the opportunity and they seize the moment. I’m super happy for her because it’s hard.”
Cooper, a second-year guard, grabbed her own career moment Thursday. She worked into the starting lineup earlier this season, scoring in double-digits in five straight games as a starter, but she was moved back to the bench after missing a game because of a suspension. She had just three total points in the previous two games.
She exploded for 14 points in the first half, just three points shy of her previous career high, as the Sparks came back from an 11-point first-quarter deficit to take a five-point halftime lead.
“Honestly, I don’t even try to think about points,” Cooper said. “Whether I score 26 or two or whatever, I just want my energy to be there and I want to leave the court saying I gave it my all.”
Cooper was 10-of-15 from the field, racking up a game-high in scoring with only one three-point shot. The Sparks made it a point to attack the rim on offense, scoring 40 points in the paint to Washington’s 20.
Sparks clinging to slim lead after three
The Sparks lead by one point, 67-66, after three quarters as Te’a Cooper’s game-high 21 points is keeping the team in it against Tina Charles and Leilani Mitchell, who each have 20 points for the Mystics.
Amanda Zahui B. has 17 points for the Sparks and two blocks.
New career high for Te’a Cooper
Te’a Cooper has a career-high 19 points as the Sparks lead 60-59 with 4:00 to go in the third.
NBA players show up to support Sparks
Te’a Cooper, Amanda Zahui B. lead Sparks to slim halftime lead
After falling behind by 11 points in the first half, the Sparks have charged back to take a 49-44 lead at halftime.
A three-pointer from Karli Samuelson before the first-half buzzer energized the Sparks crowd that includes Lakers star Anthony Davis. The Lakers forward is sitting courtside and held up three fingers after Samuelson drained her first three-pointer of the game.
Te’a Cooper has 14 points with three rebounds and three assists along with Amanda Zahui B.'s 12 points and two rebounds.
After making 12-of-16 shots in the second quarter, the Sparks are 58.1% from the field.
The Mystics are led by 15 points from Tina Charles and 12 points from Leilani Mitchell.
Sparks trail after first quarter
The Sparks trail 23-17 after the first quarter.
Te’a Cooper leads the Sparks with eight points, three rebounds and two asssits off the bench. She has twice as many points as the next highest-scoring Spark (Amanda Zahui B. with four points).
Tina Charles paces Mystics to early lead
The WNBA’s leading scorer Tina Charles has the Mystics ahead 16-6 with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter. Charles has a team-high nine points.
The Sparks have five turnovers and three made field goals. Amanda Zahui B. leads the team with four points, two rebounds and an assist.
Sydney Wiese returns to L.A.
Former Sparks guard Sydney Wiese is reuniting with her old teammates in her first trip back to L.A. as a member of the Washington Mystics.
Wiese, who was drafted by the Sparks in 2017, was traded to Washington before the season to free up space for rookies like Jasmine Walker and Arella Guirantes. It was an emotional decision, head coach/general manager Derek Fisher. Wiese was a popular player in the locker room and one of the longest-tenured Sparks players at the time.
It was especially difficult for Brittney Sykes, who struck up a quick friendship with Wiese last year in the Wubble where Sykes became known as “Chef Slim” in their Bradenton, Fla., apartment. Wiese said her cooking skills were limited to just using garlic salt for flavor, a revelation that horrified Sykes. Sykes then started calling Wiese “Garlic Salt” and adopted the nickname “Sazón.”
Sparks insert Kristine Anigwe into starting lineup vs. Washington Mystics
Sparks forward Kristine Anigwe will make her first start of the season Tuesday as head coach Derek Fisher tweaked the starting lineup against the Washington Mystics.
Anigwe will start in place of Bria Holmes. The former California Golden Bear is averaging 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds this season. Anigwe was waived at the beginning of the season but rejoined the team after injuries to Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike decimated the frontcourt.
Adding Anigwe to the starting lineup gives the Sparks more size to contend with Washington’s Tina Charles, who leads the WNBA in scoring. Her 25.3 points per game is equal to what Diana Taurasi averaged in 2006 that remains the highest scoring average for a season in WNBA history. The 6-foot-4 Charles was recently named to Team USA’s Olympic squad.
The Sparks’ starting lineup:
- Erica Wheeler
- Kristi Toliver
- Nia Coffey
- Amanda Zahui B.
- Kristine Anigwe
And for Washington:
- Leilani Mitchell
- Ariel Atkins
- Sydney Wiese
- Theresa Plaisance
- Tina Charles
Sparks’ Derek Fisher calls BS as Nneka Ogwumike misses Team USA cut
When asked about Nneka Ogwumike being left off of Team USA’s Olympic roster, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher paused to collected his thoughts Tuesday. When he did find the words, Fisher didn’t hide his feelings.
“We’re pissed, honestly,” Fisher said. “I think the thing about Nneka is that nothing has to be given to her. She earned it and she deserves it.”
Team USA released its 12-player Olympic roster on Monday and Ogwumike’s omission drew criticism as the 30-year-old forward has yet to be named to an Olympic team despite becoming one of the WNBA’s best and most recognizable players. Fisher fiercely defended Ogwumike in a video press conference Tuesday as the team prepares to face the Washington Mystics at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday.
Ogwumike is not expected to play because of a knee injury suffered earlier this month. Team USA head coach Dawn Staley mentioned the injury as a possible reason why Ogwumike was left off the squad, but Fisher isn’t buying it.
“I’m calling BS on that too,” Fisher said. “The timeline doesn’t add up for her being unavailable to play in the Olympics. I don’t care what math you use, old math, new math. We respect other players, happy for the ones that made it, but there’s no way you can tell me you put a team together and leave Nneka off of it and try to say that it makes sense and that it adds up because it doesn’t.”
Ogwumike’s knee injury is expected to keep her out for four to six weeks and she is progressing well, Fisher said. The latest she would return is early July. The Games don’t begin until July 27.
Fisher said he believed USA Basketball communicated with Ogwumike and the Sparks about her injury status, but added that he wasn’t privy to the specific conversations. He just knows that Ogwumike will return to the court before the Olympics.
If Ogwumike, who turns 31 in July, never plays for Team USA in the Olympics, it would be “a freaking travesty,” Fisher said.
Ogwumike, who was named WNBA MVP in 2016, is the only league MVP to not yet be named to an Olympic squad. The 2012 No. 1 overall pick shot 66.5% from the field in 2016 — the second-highest mark in WNBA history — but was skipped over for the Rio Games. She has been a stalwart in Team USA camps since and was one of eight players chosen for an expanded training program in 2019 with the intention of preparing for Tokyo. Fisher noted the physical toll it took to participate in those events as well as the financial sacrifices because Ogwumike forfeited lucrative overseas contracts.
“She’s always had to be the one to take it on the chin and take the high road … for then the reward to be getting looked over. Again. By the same group of people for the most part,” Fisher said. “I don’t know how you keep taking that on the chin.”
ESPN analyst Ros Gold-Onwude played with Ogwumike at Stanford, where they advanced to two Final Fours together. Speaking on ESPN’s SportsNation, Gold-Onwude criticized the decision to leave Ogwumike off the team, citing not only her talent, but her leadership.
Ogwumike is the president of the players’ association and is one of the WNBA’s biggest stars, scoring an appearance in the upcoming “Space Jam” reboot and gracing the cover of Slam magazine before the season alongside Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who were all named to the Olympic team.
“To still leave Nneka Ogwumike off this roster plus her overall talent is so disappointing,” said Gold-Onwude, who is also on the Sparks’ broadcast team. “And now basketball won’t have one of its brightest, most talented stars out there and one of its most important ambassadors.”
The Sparks, which played three games in the past week, met for a light practice Tuesday. Fisher noted the energy was low, likely due to the busy schedule, but also because players were upset on Ogwumike’s behalf. The team didn’t discuss the disappointment together, but Fisher felt Ogwumike was “probably doing better than all of us.”
“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he said.
“That’s what makes Nneka one of one,” Fisher added. “She really doesn’t allow some of these whatever the motivations are, the things that happen, to move her off of her integrity, her character, the way she carries herself, the way she treats people. Those things wouldn’t change because she wasn’t necessarily treated that way, she wasn’t treated with the respect that she always gives others. … Unfortunately it’s nothing new for her, but again, it just doesn’t feel right.”
Nneka Ogwumike left off Team USA Olympic roster
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike was left off of Team USA’s 12-player roster for the Tokyo Olympics on Monday despite being named the MVP of the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Ogwumike, who is recovering from a knee injury, averaged 13.7 points and six rebounds in three victories in the 2020 qualifying tournament, yet she will miss the Olympics for a third straight time. She was not selected to the team in 2012 as a rookie and No. 1 overall pick and missed the cut in 2016 despite winning rookie of the year and league MVP, respectively, during those seasons. Ogwumike is the only WNBA MVP to never make an Olympic roster.
“Breaks my heart that Nneka isn’t on this team,” Team USA head coach Dawn Staley told reporters. “Having to make a decision today, if we had to make a decision a month from now I’m sure she’d be healthy. This was one of the things she wanted to do. ... She’s been a great voice in our training camp and practices. We’re going to definitely miss Nneka.”
Team USA is led by five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and three-time Olympic gold medalist Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx. Jewell Loyd (Seattle), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas), Ariel Atkins (Washington), Napheesa Collier (Minnesota), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Phoenix) and Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas) will make their Olympic debuts.
Washington Mystics center Tina Charles, who currently leads the WNBA in scoring with 24.5 points per game, 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart and two-time WNBA scoring leader Brittney Griner round out the roster as Team USA chases its seventh straight Gold medal.
Ogwumike, 30, helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, but injured her left knee during a game June 1 and was expected to miss four to six weeks. The six-week mark would put her on pace to return by July 6. The Tokyo Games are slated to begin July 23 with the women’s basketball tournament beginning on July 27.
A second former WNBA MVP, Elena Delle Donne, didn’t make the roster, but she is still recovering from back surgery and has yet to play this season. Taurasi made the roster despite also recovering from an injury; the Phoenix Mercury’s star guard is out with a fractured sternum suffered in late May and was expected to miss at least four weeks.
The decision to omit Ogwumike was met with skepticism, none greater than from her younger sister and Sparks teammate Chiney Ogwumike.
“My sister’s favorite word is grace,” Chiney wrote in a statement on Twitter. “At the end of the day, her timeline worked PERFECTLY to return to play for the Olympics. Just wish that process operated with the same grace that it has delivered OTHER stars.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sparks’ smothering defense can’t stop Liberty during WNBA 25th anniversary showdown
The Sparks’ Brittney Sykes locked in on the Liberty’s Betnijah Laney, disrupting her ball handling, diverting her from the basket, making off-ball movements challenging and being a relentless nuisance to the entire Liberty defense.
Sykes is the defensive catalyst for the Sparks. Her play can be described as contagious, bringing high energy and creating opportunities for her teammates to turn suffocating defense into transition points.
That type of defensive effort has kept the Sparks in close games, carrying the team as it copes with the absence of star players Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, who are nursing injuries.
The Sparks’ efforts came up a bucket short during a 76-73 loss to the Liberty Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Convention Center in front of a sold-out crowd of 731 on the day the two teams helped mark the 25th anniversary of the WNBA.
Erica Wheeler led the Sparks offensively with 20 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
Sykes set the tone, however, with seven steals on Sunday. Whether she was poking balls loose or disrupting the Liberty’s rhythm, she was a pest and her teammates fed off that energy.
“She has a mindset that a really good defensive player must have. She takes a lot of pride in that end of the floor,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said of Sykes. “It’s like she’s creating positive energy on the defensive end for herself. She definitely helped us turn this game around today. She’s done that a lot this far this season. Hopefully, we can figure out how to win some games to support the effort she’s putting out.”
The Sparks trailed 44-36 at the half, but they came out with renewed energy and gritty effort.
The teams traded leads before the game came down to the final minute of play.
The Liberty led 74-71 when the Sparks forced a shot clock violation with 1:06 left.
Sykes drove to the basket and hit a turn-around jumper that cut the deficit to one.
After a missed shot by Sabrina Ionescu, Wheeler brought the ball up the court and couldn’t find an open look. She passed to the next most reliable option, Toliver.
Toliver was a millisecond slow on her release and her shot was blocked by Rebecca Allen. A second later, Toliver was on the ground fighting for the loose ball. The next call was the deciding factor.
A foul, which could’ve gone either way, was called on Toliver. It sent Allen to the free-throw line and she hit two shots. The Sparks needed a three-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Wheeler put up a shot that was blocked, but Coffey collected the offensive rebound and got off a last-second attempt that rimmed out.
The Sparks will continue their fight to turn effort into wins when they host the Washington Mystics Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
While frustrated, they appreciated their role in the WNBA 25th anniversary celebration Sunday. The Sparks and Liberty played the league’s first game on June 21, 1997.
“I’m really thankful. I’m blessed and fortunate to be in this position to be a head coach and general manager of a major pro sports team in the WNBA,” Fisher said when asked about the anniversary. “People that look like me are still having a hard time finding these opportunities for sure over the last 15 years. This is rare so when I think about the history of our country, I think about the history of this league.”
Wheeler also is grateful for her role with the Sparks.
“I’m definitely proud to be a part of the league,” she said. “It’s special to be in Los Angeles with the team itself, the history that they have created so being here means a lot. I’m just thankful that I’m on this team and in a league that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary.”
Sparks trail New York Liberty at halftime after run to end quarter
The Sparks and the New York Liberty have lived up to the hype of the WNBA 25th anniversary matchup.
The Liberty are relying on the three-pointer, driving into the paint and kicking out the nearest shooter. They went 6-of-18 from behind the arc in the first half and making the most of their trips to the foul line, hitting 12-of-14 at halftime.
The Sparks trail 44-36 at the half during a back-and-forth game.
L.A. is causing trouble on both sides of the ball, pestering the ball handlers and forcing the Liberty to use the entire shot clock and clogging the paint.
The Sparks are hurting in the rebounding category. The Liberty grabbed 15 rebounds, including six offensive boards that have led to second-chance points.
Turnovers have also been a factor for both teams, with the Sparks and Liberty combining for 27 turnovers at the half.
After a 7-2 run to end the half, the Liberty have the momentum going into the locker room. The Sparks will need to bring their gritty attitude to the second half.
Sparks and Liberty to play in front of soldout crowd at Los Angeles Convention Center
The Sparks host the New York Liberty and will celebrate the inaugural WNBA game played June 21, 1997, between the two franchises at the Great Wester Forum in Inglewood.
The game played at the Los Angeles Convention Center will air on ESPN and tickets are sold out.
“We’re thankful here in L.A. to have fans back in the building at any capacity,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “I think it continues to show that there’s a passion and a desire to see the WNBA, to be a part of it.”
Sparks can’t hold off Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner, fall to Mercury
The Sparks couldn’t find an answer for the Phoenix Mercury’s duo of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner, falling 80-66 Friday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The Sparks (5-6) kept the game competitive throughout and even seemed to find some life near the end of the third quarter, but the 13-point deficit heading into the fourth was too great to overcome.
Diggins-Smith, who ended with 21 points, was the catalyst for the Mercury (6-7) offense. She played with a different level of intensity. She was the maestro for the pick-and-roll offense featuring Griner.
“Ultimately, they won the game because they came out and played harder and more competitive right from the beginning and we just never were able to catch up,” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “We had some opportunities that we didn’t convert on. But, because we weren’t playing with same amount of speed, pace and assertiveness in the paint, in impacted our game.”
Erica Wheeler paced the Sparks with 17 points and five rebounds, but she couldn’t match the fourth-quarter heroics she delivered on Wednesday to help win the first matchup of the series.
Griner was an immovable object in the paint Friday night. Although she didn’t block many shots, she made the Los Angeles offense question entering the paint while drawing fouls or getting right to the basket with the ball in her hands.
It didn’t help that the tallest player for the Sparks, Amanda Zahui B, had three fouls before the first quarter was over.
“I think we allowed ourselves to get frustrated mentally, emotionally,” Fisher said. “I should have been tighter on Amanda’s foul situation in the first quarter. That third foul popped up super quick, and I got her out of the game too late.”
Los Angeles couldn’t find its offensive spark. The Sparks weren’t able to get the shots they wanted inside and shot under 40% from the field. The Sparks couldn’t play their usual game, and it was visibly frustrating.
As frustration grew throughout the second half, foul calls surged, but the difference was that the Mercury converted at the line. Phoenix shot 80.6%, while the Sparks shot 72.7% from the free-throw line.
The loss ties the series at 1-1, with the rubber match set for June 27 at 3 p.m. Until then, the Sparks will continue their homestand against the New York Liberty on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Sparks trail at halftime, struggle to control the paint
The Sparks were, yet again, undersized in the first half. Going into halftime trailing 36-44, Los Angeles had an obvious problem — the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner.
Containing 6-foot-9 Griner is no small task. Amanda Zahui B collected three fouls before the first quarter came to a close and didn’t see the floor for the rest of the first half.
Griner bullied the paint on the offensive end and made it difficult for the Sparks to get into the paint on offense, altering shots when they tried to go inside.
When Griner wasn’t accumulating her own points, she was leading the pick-and-roll. She consumed so much attention that Mercury shooters were left open.
Skylar Diggins-Smith led the Mercury with 14 points and played aggressively, taking the ball to the paint off screens and causing havoc in the paint.
The Sparks had to alter their normal game plan of attacking the basket and dishing out to an open opponent. Deterred from the paint, the Sparks lived and died by the three as they shot 30% from three and 41.9% from the field.
Despite the challenges, Los Angeles kept the game close. Led by Kristi Toliver and feeding off the Mercury’s mistakes, the Sparks created fast-break opportunities and drew fouls.
Getting back into their regular offensive rhythm, continuing to limit Griner and knocking down perimeter shots will be the keys to making a comeback in the second half.
Sparks continue to battle injuries, look to extend Phoenix Mercury’s losing streak
The matchup between the Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury is the second of a three-game series.
The Sparks protected home court on Wednesday in a game that came down to the final minutes. Friday night’s rematch also is the second of four home games for the Sparks (5-5).
The Sparks were again without the Ogwumike sisters and rookie Jasmine Walker, who had knee surgery. Los Angeles is looking to extend the Mercury’s (5-7) losing streak to five games.
On this day, June 18, four years ago, Diana Taurasi passed Tina Thompson as the WNBA all-time leading scorer.
Sparks rookie Jasmine Walker has knee surgery
Sparks rookie forward Jasmine Walker, who was drafted No. 7 overall, had surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, the team said in a release Friday.
Walked played in two games for a total of 20 minutes. She missed all five shots attempted but had two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
The team said she is expected to make a full recovery.
Sparks hold on to beat Mercury behind Erica Wheeler’s clutch fourth quarter
Maybe she was born with it, maybe it was developed by going from undrafted free agent to WNBA All-Star. Either way, there’s no doubting Erica Wheeler has the clutch gene.
The Sparks guard scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter of an 85-80 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center and added a season-high 10 assists for her first double-double.
“This is only the beginning for [her],” Sparks coach Derek Fisher said. “She’s really committed to figuring out how to run a team, how to do what she did tonight. … It’s not an easy job. But this is really literally only the beginning of what Erica’s capable of doing.”
Wheeler came within one assist of her season high in the first half, dishing out six as the Sparks (5-5) jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead. After a pregame conversation with Fisher, Wheeler made an effort to slow down, read the defense and take what they were giving.
“And my teammates made shots today so that made me look good,” she said.
Guard Kristi Toliver had 17 points and center Amanda Zahui B. had 15 points and seven rebounds. Guard Brittney Sykes (14 points) led the team with nine rebounds off the bench as the undersized and short-handed team, the league’s worst-rebounding group, were outrebounded only by three against 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner’s Mercury.
Griner dominated with 30 points and 10 rebounds and willed the Mercury (5-7) to within two points entering the fourth. That’s when Wheeler was ready to take over.
“I’m a person and a player that likes pressure,” Wheeler said. “I like to be in situations that bring pressure. That’s my life.”
With the Sparks clinging to a three-point lead with about 10 seconds remaining, assistant coach Latricia Trammell whispered to Wheeler, who is the first undrafted player in league history to be named All-Star MVP, that she was leading the league in clutch points. Her confidence was sky high.
After the timeout, Wheeler came off a screen and saw only Griner in front of her.
The dominant center rocked back a fraction and that’s all Wheeler needed to raise up for a jumper over Griner’s outstretched arm with 8.2 seconds remaining.
“I don’t think people are necessarily born with that feeling, but whatever life experiences, basketball experience, etc. that create that mindset, it’s important to any team’s success,” Fisher said. “Regardless of sport, regardless of league, you need those types of players.”
Mercury charging back
Phoenix is climbing back from a 10-point halftime deficit led by 23 points from Brittney Griner. The Mercury trail by just two heading into the fourth quarter, 68-66.
After 12 points in the first half, Kristi Toliver had just two in the third quarter as the Sparks offense lost its momentum. .
Sparks lead at halftime over Mercury
The Sparks lead 53-43 at the end of the first half, led by 13 points from Amanda Zahui B. and 12 from Kristi Toliver.
The Sparks put together a 10-0 run in the second quarter and opened up a 14-point lead late in the half while shooting 47.8% from the field.
The offensive outburst is a dramatic change for the Sparks that are coming off a season-low 64 points against the Minnesota Lynx. The Sparks rank last in the WNBA in scoring (74.2 points per game) and offensive rating.
Brittney Griner leads the Mercury with 17 points, but no other Phoenix players are in double-digit scoring.
When asked about the defensive plan against the 6-foot-9 Griner before the game, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said there weren’t many options against one of the most dominant post presences in the game, but said the best plan may be to stop her teammates.
“She’s seen all the coverages and all the things that defenses try to do and she’s still going to get her number,” Fisher said. “She’s still Brittney Griner.”
Hot from three-point range
The Sparks lead 27-24 at the end of the first quarter, thanks in part to hot shooting from beyond the arc.
The Sparks are five-of-seven from three-point range, with two three-pointers each from Amanda Zahui B. and Kristi Toliver.
Zahui B. has six points and Toliver, who is averaging 9.1 points a game, has eight.
This week, Toliver, a two-time WNBA champion, was asked about her relatively slow offensive start to the season. She recognized that her job was to score, but noted that she was also still finding her rhythm in the game after taking the entire 2020 season off.
Bria Holmes has two points with a team-high four rebounds in the first quarter.
Next player up
With guard Te’a Cooper out because of a suspension, head coach Derek Fisher expects more minutes from Bria Holmes and Arella Guirantes.
Holmes, in her first year with the Sparks, is averaging four points and 2.7 assists in 16.8 minutes. She is one of two Sparks players who played for the Mercury last season, along with forward Nia Coffey.
The rookie Guirantes averages 12 minutes a game with 3.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
Friendly chat among two Brittneys before Sparks vs. Mercury
Fourth team’s the charm: Nia Coffey fitting in with Sparks
More than half an hour after the Sparks wrapped up practice Tuesday, Nia Coffey was still on the court at the team’s Glendale practice facility. While others called it a day, the Sparks forward was working on additional drills. She used her T-shirt to wipe sweat off her face as she sat down in front of the camera for a planned videoconference.
Five years and four franchises into her WNBA career, Coffey knows the value of extra work, but she shouldn’t be depicted as just a determined role player who has finally carved out a spot in the pros through long hours in the gym.
Call her what she is: a good basketball player.
“We knew Nia was a hard worker, a great person, high integrity, high character,” Fisher said, “but I think sometimes that gets lost in how talented that she actually is.”
Sparks’ Te’a Cooper suspended for one game
Sparks guard Te’a Cooper has been suspended for one game after leaving the check-in area during an on-court altercation that occurred during the team’s game against the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday, the WNBA announced Monday.
Cooper, a second-year guard, will miss the Sparks’ home game against the Phoenix Mercury tonight.
Averaging 9.4 points and 1.7 rebounds a game, Cooper scored a career-high 17 points in the Sparks’ 80-64 loss to the Lynx.
The altercation occurred with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter with the Sparks trailing 68-62 in a physical game between two longtime rivals. Sparks guard Arella Guirantes fouled Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who retaliated with a shove. Amanda Zahui B. then pushed Collier, who appeared to tell the Sparks center, “Don’t [expletive] push me.” Other players, including Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles and Sparks Brittney Sykes, broke up the shoving match, while Cooper, who had not yet checked into the game, ran onto the court.
Technical fouls were assessed to Zahui B., Cooper, Collier and Minnesota guard Kayla McBride.
The Sparks (4-5) lost both games of their road trip and return for a three-game homestand this week with two games against the Mercury and one against the New York Liberty.