Inside the W With Michelle Smith: Sky Find Stride

Diamond DeShields needed a little inspiration as the Chicago Sky stared directly at a 2-7 record and a spot near the bottom of the WNBA standings.

So she wrote “Just Have Fun” on her shoes as a reminder.

A few weeks later, the reminders of fun are everywhere in the form of victories.

The Sky put together a seven-game winning streak – a franchise-best run that coincided with the return of Candace Parker to the floor – and have seven wins in the last eight games to catapult Chicago back into the conversation for WNBA title contenders.

As Chicago (9-8) prepares for Tuesday’s game against Dallas (8-8), the Sky are confident and cohesive, having scored at least 90 points in four of their last seven games.

This is more than fun. This is world-class basketball at a time when Chicago could have become discouraged and sent their season in a completely different direction.

“It means a lot,” said head coach James Wade after the team’s win over the New York Liberty last Thursday. “The biggest thing for us is the way we bounced back after those games we lost. We stayed together. “Sometimes a team can go in either direction, but we stayed together and fought through it and got healthy, and that’s special for this group.

“Seven (wins) in a row won’t help us win our next game, but it will help our confidence.”

DeShields said the Sky’s turnaround is a testament to resiliency and the fact that “a little adversity never hurt nobody.”

“As a team, we want to win, we have the same goals as we did at the beginning, but we are in a good place right now,” DeShields said.

But DeShields admits that she wasn’t always occupying that good place. The Sky lost seven games in a row in a span from May 23 to June 5. Parker was injured, as was shooting guard Allie Quigley. A team with high expectations was mired in a losing streak in the early part of a long season and it was taking a toll.

“Any player that’s competitive puts a lot of that on themselves,” DeShields said. “I had to remind myself to go out there and do what I do, that basketball is fun for me and I love it. Sometimes you need to remind yourself of that.

“I had to get outside of myself. The first thing that happens when you hit a wall is you go inward. I knew I had to get touches for my teammates and that was something that I knew would make me feel good.”

Meanwhile, there’s the contributions of Parker, whose return to the court on June 9 set all of this into motion. Parker is showing off all the parts of her game that will eventually make her a Hall of Famer. She is averaging 12.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists. She’s put up three double-doubles in eight games and provided two things that the Sky needed: toughness and leadership.

Case in point: Chicago is 8-1 this season with Parker on the floor.

“It’s nice to be in a situation with people who fight through adversity,” Parker said. “Sometimes the first thing you can do is make an excuse and it doesn’t seem that’s allowed here. We’ve handled our adversity with seriousness and diligence.”

Parker said she feels like the Sky are still making up the ground they lost early on, that saving the rally for the end of the season is not the way to go.

“You can’t come out and lay an egg,” Parker said. “And right now we are putting ourselves in a better position. We need to take care of it now.”

In fact, Chicago has moved from the 11th spot in the league standings to the No. 4 spot, with this past Sunday’s opponent, Connecticut, just ahead of them. And they are succeeding with balance, with six players – Kahleah Copper, Parker, DeShields, Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Astour Ndour-Fall (currently gone with the Spanish national team) averaging in double figures. As a team, Chicago ranks third in the WNBA in rebounds (38.6), assists (20.6) and steals (8.3) and first in free-throw percentage at 87.2 from the stripe. Chicago is moving the ball, sharing the scoring and Wade called them a “complete” team at this point.

Parker said she has sensed a “togetherness” among her teammates, even as they struggled.

“Teams are going to go through losing streaks and losing sucks,” Parker said. “You are not going to be happy walking into the gym, but I don’t think we let the negative energy get the best of us. Everybody here wants to win. We weren’t who we are now at that point in time and I don’t think we are there now. That’s what’s special about it.”

The Chicago Sky are proof at this point that the difference between being a team with a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak isn’t as big as one would think. It’s all about resilience. And perhaps finding a way to have some fun.

“Everybody is just being who they are,” DeShields said. “We always knew this team was capable. We are not doing anything extra, nothing out of the ordinary. But when everyone does their part, these are the results you see.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.