Sparks back at .500: Five things to know about the team after win Sunday

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike gets set to shoot a free throw.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, shown during a game earlier this season, had 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in a 93-83 victory over the Dallas Wings on Sunday at Arena.
(Jeff Lewis / Associated Press)
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Finally, the home crowd at Arena had something to cheer about.

After dropping the first three games of their longest homestand of the season, the Sparks finished with back-to-back victories over the Dallas Wings, including Sunday’s 93-83 win that clinched the season series and a potential tiebreaker for playoff positioning against the Western Conference foe.

While fourth-quarter woes plagued the team in previous games, the Sparks (7-7) outscored the Wings 33-12 in the final 11 minutes and 43 seconds Sunday, led by 27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots from Nneka Ogwumike, who was also named an All-Star Game starter Sunday.

“It’s just huge momentum for us,” coach Curt Miller said.

Here are five things to know as the Sparks (7-7) got back to .500 during their five-game homestand:


Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is matching her statistics from her 2016 MVP season, has been selected to start in the WNBA All-Star Game.

June 25, 2023


Late-game lessons

After blowing a 21-point lead in Seattle and an 11-point fourth-quarter advantage in Minnesota, late-game struggles followed the Sparks home. They were scoreless in the final three minutes against Connecticut on June 18, losing 83-74, and were outscored 5-0 in the final 2:47 against the Lynx last Tuesday.

Faced with tight games again, the Sparks didn’t fold against Dallas, focusing on ball security that plagued them in those earlier losses. They had just three turnovers in the two fourth quarters against the Wings on Friday and Sunday.

“Some of those struggles help you focus and really be able to teach those difficult moments,” Miller said. “We probably wouldn’t have been so hyper-focused on those last five minutes of the fourth quarter if we didn’t have some disappointing losses along the way. So nothing like experience.”


On point

Sparks guard Jordin Canada, right, tries to cut off a drive by Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.
Sparks guard Jordin Canada tries to cut off a drive by Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Ogwumike might not be the Sparks’ only All-Star this season. Jordin Canada is making her case for a trip to Las Vegas, averaging career highs in points (13.5), rebounds (3.4) and assists (5.8) while taking a primary role in the Sparks’ defense that ranks fourth in the league in efficiency.


“Defensive players of the year are always going to be the shot blockers and the defensive rebounders and they get all the votes,” Miller said, “but if there’s a little guard guarding better than Jordin Canada right now, I need to see it on film.”

The former UCLA star had 10 points and a season-high nine assists Sunday while defending Dallas All-Star starter Arike Ogubowale, who scored just two of her 18 points in the fourth quarter Sunday and was scoreless in the fourth Friday.


Send in backup

Canada is the only healthy piece of the Sparks’ back court that Miller purposely stacked with ball-handlers. Layshia Clarendon’s foot injury will keep her sidelined for two to four more weeks, and guard Nia Clouden’s injury is also expected to be long term as she watched Sunday’s game with her right leg in a walking boot. The second-year guard had offseason surgery to address a stress fracture in her shin.

The Sparks’ injury wave led to Rae Burrell and Destanni Henderson signing hardship contracts, which help WNBA teams fill rosters and players fulfill dreams.

June 21, 2023

The injuries opened the door for in-season pickup Destanni Henderson. Since signing a hardship contract June 16, the former South Carolina star has played in four games, averaging 7.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 14 minutes. On Sunday, she took over secondary ball-handling duties, playing almost 18 minutes with nine points and two assists.


Not back yet

Henderson’s emergence is key during Jasmine Thomas’ slow return from the anterior cruciate ligament tear she suffered in May 2022. The 33-year-old guard didn’t play against the Wings on Sunday and was limited to just four minutes Friday. The five-time WNBA all-defensive player has passed every physical checkpoint, she said, but “it’s all mental” now.


“Physically, I feel better and better each opportunity and each experience that I have,” Thomas said last week, “but I think it’s just trusting myself and being confident that I’m healthy.”


Hot and cold

Sparks guard Lexie Brown, left, drives down the lane against Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale.
Sparks guard Lexie Brown drives down the lane against Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale during a game in Dallas earlier this season.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Of the Sparks’ injured guards, Lexie Brown, who missed the last five games with a non-COVID illness, might be the first one to return. The team desperately needs her.

The sharpshooting guard was the team’s second-leading scorer before the homestand, averaging a career-best 13.3 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 48.4% from three-point range. The Sparks shot 25.8% from distance in the first four games of the homestand without Brown, before Karlie Samuelson spurred them to eight-for-19 shooting from three-point range Sunday.

Samuelson, who finished with 14 points, made four of five three-point shots in her best shooting game of the season.