The Los Angeles Sparks finished the 2016 season 26-8, claiming the second spot in the league and a bye that led the team straight to the semifinals in the Playoffs. They are currently holding onto the No. 2 seed once again, and will need to continue the momentum to maintain it.
The Sparks have clinched a playoff spot early, but Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler knows how critical these last seven games will be as teams battle for playoff positioning.
“Everybody’s hungry right now to move up,” Agler said. “We have to just focus on the moment, focus on the game that lies ahead, and just try to keep getting better.”
At this time last year, the Sparks were 22-5. After losing to the Liberty on Sunday, the Sparks are 19-8. Though a bit behind last year’s pace, Nneka Ogwumike feels the team’s quality of play is better.
“We came out of the break getting wins, but we stumbled a bit last week and today,” she said. “I feel like it’s a bit more consistent than last year.”
The Sparks have new additions that help them keep a high level of play. Odyssey Sims has been a solid contributor as one of the floor generals, averaging 21.5 minutes and 7.9 points per game. Riquna Williams is averaging 17.7 minutes per game and 6.4 points per game. Ogwumike credited Sydney Wiese as a talented player and three-point specialist that will be able to earn some quality minutes down the stretch.
Even with new pieces, the Sparks will still rely on the things that got them to the Championships last year: movement in the paint, scoring inside from Ogwumike and moving the ball.
“Towards this point in the season, you want to keep playing so well that you kind of overstep the comfort zone of your strengths,” Ogwumike said. “I think that’s where we catch ourselves right now.”
In this last push for Playoffs, Agler says Los Angeles will look to its veterans to set the tone on offense; running sets and making the extra pass instead of settling for a one-pass jump shot.
“Young players don’t sometimes understand that, veteran players should understand that. And that’s where we have to get to,” Agler said.
The Sparks have plenty of depth offensively and don’t have rely on one player to shoulder the load. Sims scored 18 points against the Liberty and depending on the day any of the Sparks could explode for 20 or 30 points. Sims had a taste of the playoffs in 2015 with the then-Tulsa Shock, averaging 20 points over 2 games. She isn’t looking too far ahead, but she is ready to get back to the playoffs and is happy to do whatever the Sparks need her to do along the way.
“Going down the stretch you never know, I might not have to score, I may just need to pass,” Sims said.