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Sparks complete season sweep of Sky with 68-63 win

Erica Wheeler led L.A. down the stretch.

Chicago Sky v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sparks pulled out their second-straight shorthanded win, defeating the Chicago Sky 68-63 in what should have been Candace Parker’s return game to Los Angeles. Instead, Parker sat, and the Sky didn’t have enough offensive firepower for what is becoming a dominant Sparks defense.

Erica Wheeler led the way with 22 points, and three other Sparks scored in double figures as the team won despite generating little-to-no offense from the bench.

L.A. used the same three-guard starting lineup with Nia Coffey and Amanda Zahui B. as the two bigs for the second straight contest, banking on their speed to create some havoc for Chicago.

It worked defensively. They were able to show high on a lot of Chicago’s actions, as Zahui B and Coffey’s length frustrated the Sky. The two also protected the backline, combining for six blocks, none more important than Coffey’s stuff of Stefanie Dolson with under two minutes to play.

Te’a Cooper was tasked with the Sky’s head of the snake, Courtney Vandersloot, and Cooper succeeded in making Vandersloot uncomfortable with her shifty feet. The Sparks also sent another body at the Chicago point guard as often as possible, forcing someone else to beat them. As a result, the Sky had a nightmare offensive performance, shooting 33.9 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from 3-point range. They also turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 14 Sparks points.

Those extra opportunities were key for L.A., as the Sparks once again struggled to create in the half court, specifically when Amanda Zahui B. was off the court. The team’s starting (and lone) center showed off her scoring from all levels. She made the change from popping to rolling in the fourth quarter when it was clear that Chicago was switching on the perimeter to deny her clean jump shots. Zahui B. said postgame that Sparks player development coach Dash Lovell was politely cussing her out on the bench for not rolling to basket on switches.

The Zahui B. pick-and-roll with Wheeler is what brought the Sparks home. The team had nine-point lead at halftime, but gave it all away — and some — to fall behind by four with seven minutes to play in the fourth. The offense was disjointed, and no one could make shots even though the defense continued to deliver.

So L.A. put the ball in Wheeler’s hands down the stretch, and she and Zahui B. repeatedly ran a high screen-and-roll. The first instance led to lay-up for the big to bring the Sparks within two. They ran it on the next possession, and Zahui B. rolled and scored at the basket yet again to tie the game. Once the Sky shaded over to Zahui B., Wheeler simply took the ball to rack herself, giving the Sparks a five-point lead they would not relinquish.

L.A. is now over .500 for the first time this season and plays next on Thursday in Washington.

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