The Sparks and the road haven’t been the best of friends. Despite earning the third seed in the playoffs, Los Angeles often looked lost away from home. Their road record in the regular season was 7-10, with their defense taking a sizable step backward.
Of all the obstacles standing between the Sparks and their fourth championship, perhaps none stand taller.
L.A. opens the WNBA semifinals at the Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the second-seeded Connecticut Sun. To make matters more difficult, the Sun have gone 15-2 at home, tying the Sparks for the league’s top mark.
It will take a reversal of trends for the Sparks to win the five-game series, but not all the odds are stacked against them.
After ending the season with a three-game home stand, L.A. earned a week off with a first-round bye, before hosting the Seattle Storm on Sunday, winning 92-69. When they tip off versus Connecticut, it will be the Sparks first game on the road in 16 days.
The WNBA chartered a plane for the Sparks — a league first — adding to the team’s rest as they look to defeat their road demons. And while the Sparks have the perk of being well rested, they may also have the benefit of not being overly rested.
With two byes, the Sun will not have played in nine days. The Sparks, however, were able to use Sunday’s win to rinse off any rust that may have accumulated during the week off.
“This time around we took a charter, so the difference in that is huge,” said forward-center Nneka Ogwumike, noting that the playoff travel has been more player-friendly than during the regular season. “But I also think that us being able to kind of have a game ahead of this, especially in a playoff experience, it’s gonna really set the tone for us.”
While the Sparks won the season series 2-1, they lost their only game in Connecticut, 89-77. L.A. had no answer for Sun center Jonquel Jones, who had 18 points, eight rebounds, and five blocked shots.
Jones led the league in rebounding this year, and the Sparks will need to limit her impact if they want to win.
“A player like her, you just gotta make it hard for her to score,” said Ogwumike, who averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds in games against the Sun. “But rebounding, that’s the big one. You have to box her out, because she’s probably the best rebounder in this league.”
Reinforcements are coming for Ogwumike, as center Candace Parker is fully healthy, after missing two of the Connecticut games this year. And if Parker picks up where she left off -- she was the Western Conference Player of the Week in the season’s final week -- L.A. has a strong chance at reversing their road fortune.