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Sparks can’t keep pace with Sky in 96-78 loss

The Sparks fell down early and played from behind nearly the entire game.

Los Angeles Sparks v Chicago Sky Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chicago Sky were the fastest-paced team in the WNBA last year and returned the bulk of their roster in 2020; they then proceeded to play the fastest-paced game of the league’s opening weekend in their win over Las Vegas.

With Chicago’s starting center Stefanie Dolson out for Tuesday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Sky were forced to double-down on their pace-and-space identity, and the Sparks just couldn’t keep up.

L.A. turned the ball over 16 times and got repeatedly burned in transition en route to a 96-78 loss, dropping to 1-1 this season. The Sky only used seven rotation players while the Sparks used nine, but they still ran L.A. off the floor. Chicago shot 54.4% from the field, including 11-of-25 on 3-pointers, putting a damper on the positive momentum the Sparks had built from their season-opening win. L.A. especially had no answer for Azura Stevens throughout the game, who started in Dolson’s place and led the team with 21 points.

The Sparks got off to a sloppy start, alternately giving the ball away and missing bunnies around the rim, which allowed the Sky to get out to an early double-digit lead. L.A. was down 16-3 six minutes into the game and was only saved by some energy off the bench from Brittney Sykes.

Sykes helped the Sparks put some pressure on the basket. Combined with some strong point forward play from Candace Parker, L.A. managed to take a 22-21 lead in the second quarter, but some negligent 3-point defense gave away the advantage, and the Sky went into halftime up four.

The Sparks were a great third-quarter team last year and outscored Phoenix 30-8 in the third period Saturday, but Tuesday’s showing was the polar opposite. Chicago blitzed L.A. 13-2 coming out of the break, feasting off offensive rebounds and Sparks turnovers. The lead stretched to 20 in the third quarter before a brief flurry from Sydney Wiese got the team back into contact.

Unfortunately, the same issues that plagued L.A. earlier in the game were present in the fourth quarter. The Sparks couldn’t get into a rhythm on offense with their starters on the floor. The most shocking stat was that Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray were -26 and -34, respectively, in their minutes.

There isn’t much time for the Sparks to dwell on this loss, as they get back to the court on Thursday against Connecticut, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.