With the Sparks’ 85-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream this past Saturday, Los Angeles has won three in a row after mostly treading water. The win streak is the longest of the season and has propelled the Sparks back into the playoff race.
As of this article, the team is now tied with Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot. So why the sudden turnaround? The answer is multifaceted.
With a plethora of injuries to their main players, the Sparks have struggled to have any form of consistency this season. There may be no better proof of this than the fact that they’ve used 15 different starting lineups in 30 games.
While L.A. is still missing Chiney Ogwumike and Lexie Brown, the rest of the squad has essentially been the same during this winning streak which has allowed Curt Miller to establish rotations and roles for players.
One of the lineups that has benefited from this is the recent starting lineup of Nneka Ogwumike, Karlie Samuelson, Azurá Stevens, Layshia Clarendon and Jordin Canada. The group has played 36 minutes together during this win streak and has an offensive rating of 102.8.
The lineup has jelled thanks to each player’s complementary skills. In Canada, they have elite defense, an All-Star in Ogwumike, a three-point specialist with Samuelson, a stretch player in Stevens and a jack of all trades guard in Clarendon.
We’ll see how returning players may shake up the unit, but right now, this is proving to be the team’s best option. The more they deploy it, the better the odds the Sparks will be successful.
Fourth quarter execution
In two of the last three games, the Sparks entered the fourth quarter with a deficit on the scoreboard. However, they’ve managed to outscore their opponents 83-58 in the final frame during this stretch.
It’s an old saying, but good teams find ways to win and bad teams find ways to lose. With each game hanging in the balance, the Sparks have found a way to suffocate and overwhelm their opponents in the closing minutes.
Against the Mystics, Ogwumike scored seven points in the fourth and the Sparks converted on eight straight free throws to ice the game. In the game versus the Fever, the Sparks got red hot from three hitting four in the fourth alone. The Sparks held a six-point advantage against the Dream and immediately ballooned it to double digits thanks to Canada and rookie Zia Cooke’s aggression.
With still so much to play for and so much parity in the league, winning these games in crunch time goes a long way in building confidence. Especially given their early season struggles in the clutch. If this new trend is a sign of things to come, the Sparks could will themselves into the postseason.
Defense wins games
Although it can definitely feel like it at times, basketball doesn’t have to be complicated. Defense wins games is still a time-tested truth.
All season long, the Sparks have stressed defense first and have backed it up on the court. The Sparks currently rank fourth in the WNBA in defensive rating and during this winning streak, they lead the league in steals with nine per game.
Sparks been locking down on defense since the break. pic.twitter.com/SO8cI1ZZ8Q— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) August 15, 2023
While defense is a team effort, individually, Canada continues to stand out as the Sparks’ best defender. Her defensive prowess has been contagious and was on full display against the Dream when she had back-to-back steals and scored five straight points off those turnovers in the fourth quarter.
With the defensive intensity rising as the season winds down, the Sparks will have to continue to slow down their opposition like they have been to make winning basketball games a bit more easier.
The road ahead
With ten games now left in the season, a playoff berth is still up for grabs. But it won't be easy. The combined record of the teams the Sparks will face is 161-140. And with matchups against the Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty still left on the slate, the Sparks will have to play their best basketball to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The good news is L.A. is peaking at the right time, and if they can remain healthy while holding off Chicago, they’ll avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
The last quarter of play begins on Saturday against the aforementioned Aces. Let’s see if the Sparks can pull off the upset and extend their winning streak to four as they enter winning time.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.