Kristi Toliver passed Vicki Johnson on the WNBA’s all-time assist list Friday, but Johnson’s Dallas Wings got the win on opening night of the 2021 season. The Sparks had a nine-point lead early, and then steadily lost steam as the game wore on, ultimately losing 94-71.
It was hard to tell which end of the floor was worse for Los Angeles. The defense — which Brittney Sykes said preseason would be “scary” — didn’t inspire any terror for the Wings. Dallas shot 53.1 percent from the field and earned 22 trips to the foul line. They scored 74 points over the final 30 minutes, not exactly the offensive output expected of a lottery team.
The Sparks didn’t rebound the ball well either, securing 25 boards compared to 45 for the Wings. Missed shots had something to do with that, but the overall effort on the glass was uninspiring.
The only thing the Sparks did well defensively was turn the Wings over. 12 first-quarter turnovers led to 13 points, but the well dried a bit later on. In the second quarter, as Dallas had eight giveaways that only led to four points. In the second half, L.A. only scored six points off of turnovers. As a result, the team’s scoring declined from 27 points in the opening frame to 11 in the final quarter.
The Sparks openly admitted that their offense was going to need some work since they started the season with only three returning players from last year’s roster, but this was a rough display. They shot 35.9 percent from the field, including 2-of-14 on shots in the paint that weren’t directly at the rim.
One positive sign came in the form of Chiney Ogwumike, who showed off improved versatility in her first game since 2019. Ogwumike teased greater range during the offseason, and she ran a number of pick-and-pops, sinking two 3-pointers on the evening. Unfortunately, having the starting center as the team’s best long-range shooter wasn’t a sustainable offensive blueprint.
L.A. has been blown out to start the season before, as recently as two years ago in Derek Fisher’s first game as head coach. That team rebounded to finish third in the WNBA standings, so it’s too early to make a determination yet on this group. Hopefully, the next game is an improvement.