Sometimes, having the more talented team is simply enough. The Sparks, jockeying for position in the congested playoff standings, welcomed the Atlanta Dream, long eliminated from the postseason, to the Staples Center on Tuesday night.
On paper, it was a one-sided fight. But the Dream didn’t receive that memo, and the Sparks, tired from a three-game road trip and resting MVP candidate Nneka Ogwumike, didn’t bring their best game.
Los Angeles played sloppy and slow throughout, finishing with 19 turnovers and 24 fouls committed. And Atlanta, with the league’s worst offense, caught fire in the first quarter, taking a 24-16 lead after the initial frame.
It still didn’t matter. The Dream, who reside at the bottom of the WNBA standings, ran out of talent against a Sparks team that had the luxury of replacing one All-Star named Ogwumike in the starting lineup with another.
The Sparks eventually pulled away for a 70-60 win, but the close contest wasn’t a surprise to some.
“I feel like we’re the deepest team in the W,” said center Chiney Ogwumike, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds while starting for her sister. “These teams like Atlanta, they’re the hardest to beat, because they’re playing carefree basketball.”
The Sparks used an 11-0 run in the middle of the third to establish a double-digit lead. With the momentum squarely in their favor, the game never felt close after that.
“The players just found a little bit of energy that they were lacking in the first half,” coach Derek Fisher said.
Candace Parker led all scorers with 21 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but it was the performance of point guard Chelsea Gray that carried the team. Gray’s final stat line wasn’t her greatest — 15 points and four assists on seven-for-15 shooting — but she played the entire 40 minutes, proving how indispensable she is to the Sparks. And she played a huge role in holding Dream guard Alex Bentley to five-for-20 shooting.
“The respect of my teammates, and the coaching staff, to leave me out there that long [is special],” Gray said. “But I’m also proud of myself for being able to take care of my body and have the ability to do that.”
With the win, the Sparks (20-12) captured their 12th straight victory at home, and moved into the third seed in the WNBA standings. If they can hold that position, they’ll earn a first-round bye before hosting a second-round single-elimination playoff game.