Sparks and Sun a battle of league powers
By Brady Klopfer
The WNBA schedule makers decided to bless fans of the league with a dynamic first week of play. Nearly every night has featured a stellar matchup and Thursday offers the icing on the cake when the Sparks visit the Sun.
Los Angeles and Connecticut have combined to go 3-0 in the young season, after having a combined record of 47-21 a year ago. And, perhaps holding the most excitement, it’s a matchup of star sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, who are meeting for the first time since the 2016 season.
Both teams have looked exceptional this season. The Sun secured a 36-point win against the Aces. The Sparks managed a road victory against the defending champion Lynx and a 17-point shellacking over the Fever. And the Sparks have done so without Candace Parker, who will be missing in action for the third consecutive game.
But the intrigue extends beyond sisterhood and matching team success. It extends to the manner in which these teams derive that success. They say that styles make fights and the captivating aspect of this showdown is that the styles of the teams can, at times, be as related as Chiney and Nneka.
Los Angeles has been forced into small ball. The Parker injury combined with Jantel Lavender and Maria Vadeeva still being overseas, has left Nneka Ogwumike (6-foot-2) as the only player on the roster standing more than six feet tall. By comparison, Connecticut is towering, with a taller Ogwumike (6-foot-4) paired next to the 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones, not to mention the immensely strong 6-foot-3 Brionna Jones off the bench.
And yet, after one game, the Sun embodied many of the small ball principles that have guided the Sparks early on. Against the Aces, Connecticut had a colossal 27 assists, as the ball bounced from hand to hand like an eager puppy in a room full of adoring people. They spent much of the game living on the perimeter, attempting 21 shots from beyond the arc, while making a highly impressive 11 of them.
They may have planted tall trees in the lane, but schematically, it was a perimeter-oriented attack that led the change. But it wasn’t just on offense; Connecticut’s quick hands and backcourt ball pressure forced Las Vegas into numerous bad decisions, resulting in 20 turnovers. Force a turnover every two minutes, and your odds of emerging victorious are fairly high.
Los Angeles certainly knows that. The Sparks are forcing 19.5 turnovers per game, as they have been dragging their opponents away from the hoop, and restricting the passing lanes and easy options. And, just like the Sun, on offense the Sparks have moved the ball with both speed and fluidity, culminating in stellar offensive opportunities, and an excellent 20 assists per game.
While the two teams have employed similar styles in the first few days of the season, Connecticut may look to utilize their considerable size advantage. Keeping the pace quick, and the battle in the backcourt would play right into Los Angeles’ hands.Then again, if the Sun can win through ball movement, perimeter shooting, and backcourt ball-handling, while still displaying their tall triumvirate of interior players, then they will firmly establish themselves as title contenders.