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Sparks offense breaks down in second half in 66-57 loss

This is the fifth straight loss for L.A.

Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Sparks came into Minnesota in bad shape. They were on a four-game losing streak, bookended by two of their worst losses of the season, including a defeat to 12th-place Indiana Tuesday when they blew an eight-point lead in the final three minutes. L.A. was also reduced to an eight-player rotation without Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver.

Meanwhile, the Lynx were winners of three in a row and nine of 10 at home. They were without starting point guard Layshia Clarendon and also down to nine players, but had only played one game in the previous eight days, compared to three for the Sparks.

Despite all those factors, L.A. had the lead after three quarters. But yet again, the Sparks couldn’t close out a game on the road late, losing 66-57. The Sparks scored four points in the final period on one made field goal, turning a two-point lead into a nine-point loss. The Lynx were the league’s top team in fourth quarter defensive rating and held true to form.

With their fifth consecutive loss, the Sparks are now a full game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA standings.

It was a disappointing defeat because L.A. came out looking like the better team. Without Toliver, Nia Coffey entered the starting lineup, which gave the Sparks tons of length on the perimeter. That allowed them to deny the ball into the paint and make Sylvia Fowles a non-factor for much of the first half. L.A. also forced 10 turnovers in the first two quarters, leading to 11 points in transition.

The Sparks had some turnover issues of their own but mitigated them by shooting 43.2 percent from the field, including 4-of-8 on threes. The bench made a nice run to start the second, bolstered by Te’a Cooper’s strong forays to the hoop. Lauren Cox chipped in five points off the bench as well; the highlight was the first three of her Sparks tenure (and just the fifth of her WNBA career) followed by a block on Napheesa Collier on the other end.

The formula was clear for the Sparks in the first half, as it has been in the second half of the season. L.A. mucks up the game, closes off the paint, forces turnovers, and creates offense in transition. No one on the Sparks scores at high volume, but when everyone gets on the board — and six players have at least five points — the team gets the job done.

Things got out of hand for L.A. in the third quarter as the Sparks let the Lynx get out in transition. That got Aerial Powers comfortable, and she used to her speed to great effect, which then created openings for Fowles. The Sparks offense simultaneously cratered, and only Nneka Ogwumike and Erica Wheeler scored in the third, totaling 12 points.

That offense only got worse in the fourth, as Ogwumike and Wheeler combined for just four points over 10 minutes. No amount of defense could overcome that offensive letdown.

The only silver lining for the Sparks is that their two-week road trip has now come to an end. They return to Staples Center on Thursday, Sept. 9 to host the defending champion Seattle Storm.