Sparks on the Road - Game Previews
July 8 at Minnesota Lynx, 6:00 pm
The Sparks tip-off its longest road trip of the season, a 10-day, four-game journey across the country, when LA travels to Minnesota to face the Lynx for the third time this season, but first at Target Center. Los Angeles dropped its previous two meetings against the Lynx at STAPLES Center and will look to put together four productive quarters. In the first game between the teams (6/8), Minnesota jumped out to a 30-16 lead after one on its way to an 85-72 victory. The Sparks cut the deficit to just five at halftime with a 21-12 second quarter and stayed within striking distance for the remainder of the game until Minnesota pulled away with free throws down the stretch. In the second meeting, Minnesota again jumped out to a sizeable lead after one before the Sparks fought back to cut its deficit to six before the break. A hot-shooting Lynx team shot a Sparks opponent-season-high .638 from the field and assisted on 26 shots to win, 94-77.
Through the first two games, Minnesota has outscored the Sparks 59-30 over the two first quarters combined by the teams. On the other end, Los Angeles has held a combined 49-36 advantage in the two second quarters. The Sparks have held an advantage after the first quarter after all seven of its wins these season and holds an average of 23.7-15.6 in those games.
Los Angeles will look to start the trip off with a win and capture its first against Minnesota this season. Tuesday's game will be on ESPN2.
July 11 at New York Liberty, 4:30 pm
Los Angeles will take the Madison Square Garden court to face the New York Liberty for the first time this season on Friday, July 11. The Sparks swept the Liberty in 2013 with a 97-89 July 4 win at STAPLES and an 85-67 victory at New York. An offseason trade brought the Liberty former MVP Tina Charles, who has been paying dividends--especially recently. The Liberty opened the month of July with consecutive wins over Tulsa and Minnesota at Madison Square Garden. Charles averaged 30.0 points per game during those two games, including a career-high 32 in the win over Minnesota Sunday.
Los Angeles will be up against a tough New York defense that is surrendering a league-best .415 field goal percentage and 75.8 points per game, good for third in the WNBA. The Liberty is also among the league's best teams in rebounding (34.44 per game) and the Sparks frontcourt of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender will need to continue its recent strong play.
July 13 at Connecticut Sun, 10:00 am
The third game of the trip centers in Connecticut with a clash of Ogwumikes, as rookie Chiney and the Sun hosts sister Nneka and the Sparks. Prior to the number one draft pick's arrival in Uncasville, the Sparks swept its 2013 season series from the Sun, including a 74-72 win (8/6/13) at Mohegan Sun Arena followed by a 91-78 home victory (8/27/13). Much has changed for Connecticut since then, though, as new acquisitions Ogwumike, Katie Douglas and Alex Bentley are all scoring in double-figures for the Sun. Connecticut has had its share of ups and downs this season, recently enduring a season-high four-game skid immediately after running off a season-high six-game win streak. Chiney Ogwumike has led the Sun with averages of 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, mirroring her sister Nneka's 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
In order to continue its recent success against the Sun, the Sparks will need to keep the Sun off the offensive glass. Connecticut ranks third in the league (11.68) in offensive rebounds per game and in an offense that ranks last in assists per game (12.68), many opportunities are created from second chances. Another key factor will be one, if not all three, of the Sparks top rebounders and their productivity. Over the last six of seven games, at least one of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender has posted double-digit rebounds and will look to continue that recent success this road trip in Connecticut.
July 15 at Indiana Fever, 5:00 pm
The Sparks wrap up its four-game trip at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday when the team faces the Indiana Fever. A team in the thick of a crowded Eastern Conference race, Indiana recently welcomed back former WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings, who rejoined a core of Shavonte Zellous, Erlana Larkins and Briann January on July 5. Those four players return from last year's team, which was swept by the Sparks, including a 74-64 Los Angeles win at Indiana (8/8/13). The Sparks followed that up eight days later with a 94-72 victory at STAPLES Center. Over the offseason, the Fever added rookie Natasha Howard, who is tied for fifth among rookies in scoring (9.6 points per game), as well as a familiar face in Marissa Coleman. Coleman signed with Indiana after two years in Los Angeles and is contributing 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game as a starter.
Though the return of the veteran Catchings may ease some of Indiana's early-season turnover issues, the Fever is last in the league in turnovers per game (16.17). The matchup seems to welcome the Sparks aggressive defense that has it first in the league in steals per game (10.41). Armintie Herrington (2.29) and Candace Parker (2.18) are among the league leaders in the category, while Nneka Ogwumike has averaged 4.0 per game in the Sparks first three July contests.
Tuesday's game, which will air on ESPN2, wraps-up the Sparks longest road trip of the season as the team looks to return to Los Angeles on a win streak with one home game to play before the All-Star break.