Currently on a season high four-game losing streak, the Los Angeles Sparks have seen better days.
The combination of a disappointing road trip and an ongoing injury bug has L.A. sitting at a 7-11 record heading into the final week before the WNBA All-Star break.
When fully healthy the Sparks fare well against the league’s top guards, but without a couple of wings and their top defensive player Jordin Canada, backcourts have had a field day against Los Angeles.
Courtney Williams had her first-ever career triple-double against L.A. when the Sparks faced Chicago. The Sky needed every contribution Williams gave them as they narrowly won 86-78 to complete the two-game series sweep.
After the loss to the Sky, the Sparks headed to Atlanta for another two-game series. The results unfortunately were the same. This time it was All-Star snub Rhyne Howard, who dominated, scoring a career-high 43 points as the Dream cruised to a 112-84 victory.
It wasn’t just the point total that was jarring, it was the ease in which Howard scored that was noteworthy. She made a living in the paint and sprayed jumpers all over the floor, including going 6-12 from behind the arc.
All 14 of Rhyne Howard's made baskets during last night's career high 43 piece performance pic.twitter.com/NC6XyTZihi— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) July 3, 2023
“She had a great night, so you give a lot of credit to her,” Curt Miller told reporters following the loss. “She made a lot of difficult one-on-one plays, so it wasn’t all poor defense. We threw a lot of people at her.”
The end result was the same in the teams’ rematch, but this time it was All-Star guard Allisha Gray, who had the stellar performance. Gray scored 23 points, with 14 coming during a pivotal 23-7 run late in the game to seal the victory.
No one wants to hear excuses why a team continues to lose, but there is context that explains the Sparks’ poor performances as of late. They’re just too injured to compete.
“I’m resigned to the fact we may never play with 11 players this year the way this season is going.” Miller chuckled in frustration following a recent loss.
Of the five players who started on opening night, four were out for the Sparks on Wednesday. Layshia Clarendon (partial tear on right plantar fascia), Lexie Brown (non-Covid illness), Canada (shoulder) and Chiney Ogwumike (foot) all continue to miss time.
That’s not to mention the Sparks also being without Nia Clouden, Katie Lou Samuelson (will miss the season due to her pregnancy) and now her sister Karlie.
With so many injuries, the responsibility and workload for the available players has naturally only increased. L.A. has been forced to rely on hardship players like Destanni Henderson, given a starting spot to Jasmine Thomas and we’ve seen more of rookie guard Zia Cooke than expected.
The players are doing their best and competing hard, but the results haven’t come and likely won't until reinforcements arrive. Still, the team must find a way to scrap and hold down the fort despite the challenging situation they’re facing.
It may benefit the Sparks to take a page from Atlanta head coach, Tanisha Wright’s philosophy to help get them back on track.
“Complaining is not going to do you any good. You have two options. You can complain about it, or you can just get it done because on the court, nobody cares.”
One bright spot this past week has been the emergence of Azurá Stevens. After missing the first six games due to a back injury, she has finally started to come into her own. Over the last three games, she’s averaging 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
The biggest change for Stevens has been slotting her back into her more preferred power forward position. That along with an increase in minutes, has helped lead to her uptick in production.
“It’s been really great, I feel really comfortable,” Stevens said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s a natural position for me, and I just feel like I’m really in stride and really helping my team the best that I can.”
With a career average of 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, this current streak of games is more of the optimistic projections the Sparks had for her at the start of the season.
Between a new team, a new coach and an increased role, Stevens could be on track for a career year if she continues her strong play. It has only been just one week, but now that she’s playing the four, maybe Stevens can reach her true potential.
Looking ahead, the Sparks have a pair of games to play before they head into the All-Star break.
First, they have a matchup against the lowly Phoenix Mercury on Sunday. Then they play the 16-1, Las Vegas Aces on Wednesday. I think you know which game seems like the more winnable one.
Regardless of the competition, ending this losing streak has to be the primary focus before the break.
At 7-11, L.A. is currently in ninth place and on pace to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row. There is still a lot of basketball to go, but with the halfway mark soon approaching, winning some games — and getting healthy — will be critical if the Sparks want to turn things around.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.