The Sparks are currently playing their best basketball of the season as they have won five games in a row, handed Las Vegas their first home loss of the season, are in sole possession of eighth place and can climb as high as fourth with eight games left.
There are many reasons for this turnaround but Layshia Clarendon has been at the center of it all.
Clarendon has been in the starting lineup 18 times for the Sparks this season, with the team going 11-7 in those games. Their impact has transcended the scoreboard and has been felt on both sides of the ball.
Layshia was relentless on the court today.— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) August 19, 2023
22 PTS | 5 REB | 5 AST pic.twitter.com/TT6pkPkwXO
On the defensive end, Clarendon has disrupted opposing WNBA guards by fighting through screens, has battled bigs on switches and is notorious for jumping passing lanes to create turnovers. Clarendon is averaging nearly a steal per game, the highest of their career.
Throughout this five-game winning streak, the Sparks have held opponents to under 74.2 points per game, which for context, would be the lowest points total for a team in the league. And with the Sparks averaging a defensive rating of 99.4 on the season, the team's defense has consistently been elite and is peaking at the perfect time thanks to the contributions from Clarendon.
While their defensive impact has been felt, Clarendon's offense has also given Los Angeles a Spark and a much-needed wing with Lexie Brown still out.
After returning from injury, Clarendon has been an elite shooter in multiple facets. They have made six of their nine opportunities from downtown and have been automatic from the charity stripe, going 16-17 during the team’s winning streak.
Clarendon has had three of their four highest scoring games of the season in the month of August alone, including her 22-point performance versus the Aces.
When Clarendon was out, it was much easier for defenses to clog up the paint and double Nneka Ogwumike at every opportunity. Teams cheated off the Sparks’ 3-point shooters of and were noticeably unworried about getting burned backdoor.
With Clarendon back now, however, all that's changed. It may not directly reflect in the box score, but Clarendon's off-ball movement has opened up passing lanes (3.3 assists per game), drives to the basket and advantages in isolation situations. This is especially instrumental as the Sparks’ offense revolves around creating space and getting the best looks possible.
There is no coincidence that Clarendon’s return has played a role in the Sparks’ surge. The 32-year-old is not only playing their best basketball of the season, but arguably some of the best in their career as Los Angeles is heading in the right direction and peaking at the right time.
It's easy to get excited about best-case scenarios, but with only a few games left, the Sparks need to focus on controlling their own destiny by only worrying about the direct game ahead of them.
We'll see if they can keep their momentum going and win their sixth consecutive game when they face the Atlanta Dream on Friday.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.