Sparks squander chance to boost playoff hopes with loss to Sun

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner shoots against Sparks center Amanda Zahui B.
Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner, right, shoots against Sparks center Amanda Zahui B. during the first half of the Sparks’ 75-57 loss at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

It was over just as it started. Even Derek Fisher could tell almost from the opening tip.

Before the head coach could even fasten his face mask, the Sparks were already down by 17 in the first quarter to the Connecticut Sun on Thursday and it quickly spiraled out of control into a 75-57 loss at Staples Center.

With a chance to make up ground in a tight playoff race, the Sparks turned the ball over 20 times, allowed the Sun (23-6) to take 29 free throws compared with their 11 and lost their sixth straight game.


“We couldn’t get out of our own way,” Fisher said.

Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez defeated No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, and British teen Emma Raducanu defeated Maria Sakkari to reach the U.S. Open final.

Sept. 9, 2021

The coach thought the pressure of the playoff hunt was getting to his players, many of whom haven’t played regular minutes in the WNBA. The Sparks are one of four teams in contention for two final playoff spots, but the contenders have combined for 17 straight losses.

L.A. (10-19) fell a full game behind the eighth-place New York Liberty with Thursday’s loss in which Nneka Ogwumike had 12 points and seven rebounds to lead the team. The Dallas Wings (12-17) are in seventh place while the Washington Mystics (10-18) are ninth.

“It doesn’t come down to one game, it doesn’t come down to one play,” Ogwumike said.

“It’s the investment of time and respect for the game and just being prepared in that way and I think we have a ways to go with that as a collective.”

The Sun’s MVP candidate Jonquel Jones dominated with 21 points and 14 rebounds as Connecticut (23-6) stretched its winning streak to 11. Jones scored 10 points during Connecticut’s 17-0 run to start the game and grabbed as many rebounds in the first three quarters (13) as the entire Sparks team during that time.

Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones, left, battles Sparks forward Lauren Cox for a rebound during the first half Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

A matchup with the league-leading Sun was guaranteed to be physical, underscoring just how much the Sparks needed Chiney Ogwumike. The forward who had missed the previous three games with right knee soreness brings much-needed toughness, Fisher acknowledged before the game.

“She’s not shy to tell you she’s bigger than her sister and she plays bigger,” Fisher said with a smile. “You miss that.”

With the Sparks down by 17, the 6-foot-3 Chiney Ogwumike entered the game and immediately lifted the team. The forward found her 6-2 older sister Nneka for a layup, scored on another point-blank shot and got a steal that pushed Erica Wheeler into a fast break chance.

But Chiney Ogwumike was still hampered by her injury, playing only six minutes and having to leave in the second quarter after an awkward fall sent her to the locker room. The former No. 1 draft pick finished with two points, one assist and one steal.

Highlights from the Sparks’ 75-57 loss to the Connecticut Sun on Thursday at Staples Center.