The Sparks came into the final weekend of the season needing some help to jump into the top two of the WNBA standings. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take care of their own business against Las Vegas, and will thus be the no. 3 seed for the second straight season.
That means that L.A.’s first playoff game will be a single-elimination game against the lowest-seeded team remaining after the first round of the playoffs Tuesday. Without homecourt advantage, a one-and-done postseason game could be a scary proposition.
The Sparks won’t be entering the postseason on the strongest footing either, after losing their last two regular-season games (the team’s only two-game losing streak of the year) and being down two rotation players. The absence of Sydney Wiese was particularly noticeable against Las Vegas, when L.A. shot 5-of-22 from 3-point range and made as many threes as the Aces despite having 13 more attempts from distance.
The shooting was ultimately the difference, as Vegas shot 52.5% from the field while the Sparks were at 37.5%, leading to an 84-70 loss.
It didn’t seem like scoring was going to be an issue at the start of the game. Despite both defenses ranking in the top 3 for the season, it was the offenses that had their way to start the game. L.A. and Vegas essentially traded baskets for much of the first quarter, but the Aces started to create a little bit of separation once the benches came in. Vegas put Dearica Hamby on the Sparks ball-handler, whoever that it was, and it got the L.A. offense a little bit out of sorts. The Aces were only up four points at the end of the opening period, but the Sparks would never be within one possession for the remainder of the game.
Vegas made another run in the second quarter spearheaded by Hamby and Angel McCoughtry. The Sparks were creating good shot opportunities and they targeted the weak spots in the Aces defense, but they weren’t able to knock their jumpers.
L.A. also wasn’t as physical as Vegas. They were outscored in the paint 38-30 and outrebounded 47-32. Beyond Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, head coach Derek Fisher didn’t trust any of the backup bigs to give meaningful minutes, and that meant essentially a seven-player rotation. Even when the Sparks got back into things in the third quarter and trailed by only four heading into the final period, the Aces had fresher legs to close out the game.
Ogwumike led the way with 24 points and seven rebonds. Parker had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Other than the two of them, the Sparks shot 9-of-41 from the field.
Losing two straight games to end the season isn’t ideal, but the team feels confident that its shooting luck will revert to the mean. And for a veteran group, the goal was always to peak in the postseason. That outcome is still in play.
“I feel like the season is just beginning, the regular season is great, but that’s not what you play for,” Parker said.
The real season begins Thursday.