On Tuesday, Sparks’ general manager Karen Bryant and head coach Curt Miller spoke to the media for a midseason “state of the team” address to discuss several topics, including: their first year in their roles, short and long-term goals, player performances and injury updates.
Here are the key takeaways from the presser.
The record is not ideal
“I’d be the first to say we’re not happy with where we are in the standings in the win-loss record,” Bryant said in her opening statement. “But I think we are giving ourselves a tremendous amount of grace in terms of how we’ve handled the injuries in particular.”
The Sparks currently sit at 7-14 and find themselves on the outside looking in for a spot in the postseason.
As Bryant alluded to, the team has been mired by injuries this year, especially to key starters like Layshia Clarendon and Lexie Brown as well as high-impact rotation players like Chiney Ogwumike.
In a league with two elite teams and parity everywhere else, it’s tough to win being so shorthanded in key positions. “We’ve had 12 different starting lineups in the first 20 games,” Miller told the media. “So trying to find chemistry and continuity through that hasn’t always been easy.”
As the season rolls on, things likely won’t get any easier for L.A. They are still without key players and some of the injury updates provided don’t bode well for their postseason chances.
Reinforcements are on their way
After missing the previous 11 games, Lexie Brown made her return on Thursday night, scoring 13 points in the Sparks’ loss to the Minnesota Lynx.
Brown’s return was desperately needed. Not only is she a starter, but she’s also one of the players who has having a career year for L.A. Averaging 13.3 points and shooting 42% from three, the team’s offense has sorely missed her floor-spacing.
While Brown’s return is great news for the team, the same can’t be said for Chiney Ogwumike’s timetable.
“She’s gonna be out 4-6 weeks,” Bryant said. “She needs to stay off weight-bearing for the foreseeable future and just kind of focus on healing that achilles.”
Six weeks from now potentially puts Ogwumike in line for the final week of the regular season. Even if that happens, it’s difficult to imagine she’ll be ready right away from an impact perspective.
Ogwumike has been a borderline starter/sixth-woman for L.A. for years now, so losing her production is not something that is easily replaceable and will take a committee to fill her shoes.
Injuries happen to every team, but it’s still worth stressing the difficulty in trying to win consistently when a team can’t even field nine players without the use of hardship contracts.
Yes, the players on the court need to be better, but a significant portion of this seven-game losing streak can easily be explained by simply looking at the injury report.
While the team may be struggling, quite a few players have taken advantage of their opportunities and are playing the best basketball of their careers. One of those players that was singled out during the press conference was Jordin Canada.
“I think she hasn’t even scratched the surface,” Miller said. “I truly believe there’s a whole other level to Jordan.”
That’s a scary proposition for the league as Canada has always been an elite defender and is steadily improving and expanding her offense between her playmaking and gains as a scorer. Originally brought in on a training camp deal, Canada has exceeded expectations and has emerged as one the team’s biggest bright spots.
“We were very clear with Jordin she was gonna have to come in and compete,” Bryant told the media. “And she earned her role as our starting point guard and we could not be more proud of her.”
Nneka Ogwumike was another player highlighted for having a borderline career year. The WNBA All-Star has put up career-highs in points and rebounds. Impressive feats given she’s playing in her 12th season. A dominant longevity that she and LeBron James have in common.
On the other side of the age spectrum, the team’s rookie, Zia Cooke, was also praised by her head coach for her availability and preparation.
While she has shown the typical growing pains that a young player experiences, Cooke had an electric debut scoring 14 points on opening night and had a three-game run this summer where she was scored in double figures.
It’s not just her offense that has stood out however, as she’s been tenacious on defense guarding some of the best ball-handlers in the league.
She’ll nod in approval when she forces a turnover or her opponent misses a tough jumper and she’ll grimace when she lets a defender beat her. She plays with her heart on her sleeve, and is proving to be exactly what you would want from a player in their first year.
With four games in seven days, the Sparks are going to be thrown right back into the fire coming out of their break.
They unfortunately got off to a rough start, losing to the Lynx on Thursday. The Sparks rallied back thanks to an 18-2 run in the third but once again came up short in the fourth.
Now in the season’s third quarter, urgency is a must if L.A. hopes to turn things around even if the odds seemed to be stacked against them.
“Our schedule is difficult, we’re on the road, we play some of the monster teams out east, it’s not going to be easy,” Miller said. “But if we can build some of the momentum regardless of where we finish in the standings, it is identical to what has happened throughout my career.”
Perhaps a case of déjà vu, Miller has been in similar situations in the past as several of his teams have started slow but then experienced hot second halves.
“Can we make that happen here? I’m confident that we can.”
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.