After Turning Away The Lynx, How Much Do The Sparks Have Left?
By Brady Klopfer
When the dust settled at the Staples Center on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Sparks laughed. The rubber match with the Minnesota Lynx was finally over and for one day at least, the Sparks got the best of their longtime rivals.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve took the postgame podium to admit that changes will need to be made in Minneapolis; that the Lynx merely aren’t good enough right now.
No such statements were made about the Sparks.
Lindsay Whalen and Sylvia Fowles took the podium to reflect on a season and a career. Their voices were quiet; their minds surely occupied with more pressing issues than media questions.
Minutes prior, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray took the podium, and they smiled and laughed so hard you questioned if their bellies hurt. It was just that kind of atmosphere for the home team.
For one day, at least, Los Angeles was on top of the world. Candace Parker scored the games first points, and then went scoreless until the final buzzer, but it didn’t matter. Ogwumike and Gray dominated. Riquna Williams lit the hoops on fire. Essence Carson, Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims made life miserable for the Lynx’s frustrated perimeter players. Jantel Lavender provided a spark, and a different dimension off the bench.
Parker’s quiet night (it was later revealed that she was under the weather) notwithstanding, they looked like the team that many - myself included - picked to win it all many months ago.
And they’ll need that, just to move on. With one elimination game in the rear view mirror, the Sparks now must play another; and while there won’t be the made-for-TV draw of playing bitter rivals, Thursday’s game against the Washington Mystics provides L.A. with a whole new series of issues to worry about.
Chief among them is simply the energy that spilled out of Gray and Ogwumike as they yucked it up at the press conference table.
The Sparks played on Sunday afternoon, in Connecticut. By the time they arrived back in L.A., it was 2 a.m. on Monday. They gathered their energy for Tuesday’s playoff opener, and by the time their media obligations were handled, and the ice removed from their knees, the clock was flirting with midnight. Wednesday they flew across the country. Thursday they play the opening game of the second-round doubleheader.
And that’s before mention of Parker’s illness on Tuesday, or the bout of mono that sidelined Ogwumike on Sunday, and made her questionable for the start of the playoffs.
L.A. matches up well with Washington, a team they beat on the road in June, and nearly beat on the road just a week ago. They have the defensive players to limit Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Tolliver, and, since the game will likely be played primarily in the half court, the Sparks can take advantage of certain advantageous matchups.
But Washington hasn’t played since Sunday, and the Sparks will be playing their third game in five nights, with pairs of cross-country flights and illnesses thrown in. We’ll get to see if they have enough left in the tank.