The Los Angeles Sparks topped the Minnesota Lynx 79-57 Thursday evening at Staples Center to move into third place, as both Nneka Ogwumike (illness) and Alana Beard (groin) returned to the starting lineup. With the victory, the Sparks snapped a five-game home losing streak and sit just half a game behind the second place Atlanta Dream.
L.A.’s ball pressure early on forced the Lynx to run their offense from well beyond the 3-point line. A Candace Parker deflection lead to the first of three consecutive Lynx turnovers in the first four minutes of the game. After Minnesota reserve center Temi Fagbenle was called for a walk, Parker drilled a three-pointer over Fagbenle on the ensuing possession to give LA an early 11-4 lead.
Beard and Ogwumike did not appear to be hindered at all by the ailments that had kept them off the floor for several games apiece. Ogwumike finished with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 28 minutes. Beard played 30 minutes, and per usual drew the primary assignment on Lynx star forward Maya Moore (8 points, 4-7 FG). Odyssey Sims started at guard and Essence Carson, who had started each of the last four games, played 19 minutes off the bench.
The Lynx had no answer for Parker, especially while All-Defense forward Rebekkah Brunson rested. Brunson picked up her third foul just after the midway point of the second, and logged just seven minutes in the first half.
The Sparks managed to hold steady in the third, entering the final period with a 13-point lead. With Minnesota’s reserves in early in the fourth, Los Angeles extended its lead to as many as 24 points, allowing both teams to give their starters some rest — a precious commodity in this condensed 2018 season.
Sparks point guard Chelsea Gray poured in 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go with nine assists, while Parker’s final line was 23 points (9-16 FG, 2-3 3PT), 10 rebounds, four assists in just 30 minutes
With just seven games left to play, five of which will be on the road, the Sparks will aim to jockey for positioning to secure a playoff bye. The top two seeds in the WNBA earn a double-bye into the semifinals, while the third and fourth seeds get a one-game bye before hosting a second round single elimination game.
The Sparks return to action Sunday afternoon as they host the Phoenix Mercury, who are coming off a Wednesday win in Las Vegas over the Aces.