With the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers still alive in the NBA playoffs, not to mention the Los Angeles Kings being one of the last four teams left in the NHL Playoffs, the STAPLES Center in L.A. has been home to some good teams this year. And most WNBA experts think that the Sparks, like the rest of their arena mates, are poised for a postseason run in 2012.
Despite finishing fifth in the West and missing the Playoffs last year, there is reason for excitement in L.A. The Sparks, in addition to returning a healthy Candace Parker, acquired forward-center Nicky Anosike, former All-Star Alana Beard, and they defied the odds, won the draft lottery and were afforded the luxury of selecting Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike with the No. 1 overall pick. Put all the pieces together and the puzzle is a pretty one in L.A. .
The infusion of talent would be enough to make this team a contender, but as General Manager Penny Toller will tell you, fielding a Playoff team is about more than just adding skilled players.
"Last year I thought we had a really, really good team but the chemistry wasn’t right," Toller said. "I wanted to get players that wanted to work hard, didn’t care about how many points they scored. Players that were willing to help the team overall be the best that they could be. I felt we’ve done that with Alana Beard. Beard is just a class act. I think we’ve done that with Nicky Anosike, and yes it helps that she’s also played with Candace before. They’ve were a great 1-2 tandem before. I think Marissa Coleman was a plus. I think Sharnee Zoll was one of the best point guards in the league."
The West is loaded with Playoff-ready teams, but no team can rival the front line that the Sparks have. Parker, Anosike, Ogwumike and DeLisha Milton-Jones form a lethal quartet in the middle. With this group, in addition to promising forward-center Jantel Lavendaer, L.A.'s post players should be able to stay healthy, stay out of foul trouble and outwork the other team in the paint.
While Toller is beaming with the quality of players on her roster, she is most excited about a different acquisition.
"The best acquisition I think I made during the offseason was hiring Carol Ross," Toller said. "That supercedes the players."
Ross most recently was an Assistant Coach for the Atlanta Dream, WNBA finalists in 2010 and 2011. A coaching veteran of over 25 years, Ross is well respected across the league..
It was a busy offseason for the Sparks. They changed coaches, reworked their personnel and now it seems as if they can reverse their fortunes from last year.
League GMs almost unanimously said that Los Angeles would make the postseason this year. Looks as if the STAPLES Center could be getting another Playoff team.
Parker has only played in 27 games the last two seasons, but this year she has a lot of help in the frontcourt. Reduces minutes and increased flexibility to roam may make it easier for Parker to stay on the court. With career averages of over 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds, even 25 minutes out of Parker could be a game changer.
– Anthony Oliva, WNBA.com