Sky Look for Repeat Performance vs. Sparks
It's getting closer to do-or-die time for the Chicago Sky, who will take to the City of Angels to play the suddenly free-falling Los Angeles Sparks. Chicago hopes to capitalize on the Sparks, recent struggles, including four losses out of the past five games, in order to pull ahead of New York in the Eastern Conference standings and capture a thus-far elusive bid for the WNBA Playoffs. With five games remaining, including tough contests against Atlanta and Seattle, there is little wiggle room for Chicago to slip.
L.A.'s pedigree includes a long list of great post players, including Lisa Leslie, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tina Thompson. The Sparks continue that tradition with 6-foot-4 center Candace Parker, the first overall pick of the 2008 WNBA Draft. However, Parker hasn't had many opportunities to establish a rivalry with Sylvia Fowles and the Sky. While her team has played Chicago nine times since she was drafted, Parker has only participated in five of those thanks to a dislocated left shoulder in 2010 and a right knee injury in 2011. In those five games, Parker has averaged 14.6 points and eight rebounds, but she seems much more comfortable at home (17.5 points per game) than in the Windy City (12.0 points per game). In the first game of the season between these two teams on Sept. 2, Parker was in line with her averages, scoring 15 and grabbing nine boards, but Chicago got the victory, 85-74.
The Sparks' leading scorer and former Chicago guard Kristi Toliver has also played five times against the Sky since joining L.A. in 2010. She has become progressively aggressive with each game, topping out at 19 points against her former team almost two weeks ago. Despite L.A.'s late woes, Toliver remains on fire, having scored at least 17 points in 13 of her last 14 games. Rookie Nneka Ogwumike, L.A.'s No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft, had a somewhat rough introduction to Chicago as she was held to 3-of-11 shooting. Yet she finished with a solid, if unspectacular, line of 11 points, six assists and five rebounds.
In spite of the star power that has existed between two of the WNBA's largest franchises, neither team has ever had a player score more than 24 points against the other. L.A. forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who averages a hair under 10 points a game, once scored 24 points against Chicago on June 3, 2008, while former Chicago star Candice Dupree reached that mark against L.A. on July 1, 2007. Chicago's Epiphanny Prince, who dropped 30 points at New York last Friday, appears primed to set the new record ' especially if she can continue her torrid shooting of nearly 44 percent from beyond the arc. In her last four games, Prince has knocked down 11 of 22 treys. Prince scored 17 against L.A. nearly two weeks ago, but she dished a career-high nine assists. With Fowles possibly out, look for Prince to carry more of the scoring load.
Chicago forward and 2012 Olympian Swin Cash turned in her finest performance of the season on Sunday at Connecticut, putting up season highs in points (21) and rebounds (15) in Fowles, absence. Cash turned in a well-rounded line of 13 points, nine boards and five assists against L.A. on Sept. 2, and her defense will be needed to help slow down Parker and Ogwumike in the paint. The Sky would certainly love a repeat performance of 15 points and seven assists from point guard Courtney Vandersloot when the Sparks were in town.
Without Fowles prowling the paint with her 10.4 rebound average, the Sky will look down the bench for help on the boards. Prince has provided strong rebounding from the guard spot, averaging nearly four per game in the last four contests. Tamera Young has also picked up the slack in that department with 11 rebounds in the last three games. The Sky rank fourth in the league in rebounds with a 35.6 average and the Sparks are third at 37.2. If the Sky can keep control of the glass and limit L.A.'s possessions, they'll be back in the hunt for the East's fourth spot.
Tune into Comcast CN100 for all the action at 9:30 p.m. CT or watch the game on WNBA LiveAccess via www.chicagosky.net.