What Are The Keys To Playoff Success For The Sparks?

 

By Brady Klopfer

 

There have been ups and downs to the season, but ultimately the Los Angeles Sparks are right where they belong: in the playoffs. The Sparks will not finish with one of the top two seeds, which means they’ll have an extra tough road ahead of them if they wish to return to the WNBA Finals for the third consecutive season. But it’s very, very doable.

The story of the Sparks’ season has been inconsistency. The team has ebbed and flowed more than the ocean on a tumultuous day. Five-game home losing streaks have been countered by blowout victories against the league’s elite. They’ve been the best team in the league at many points in the year; and they’ve been vulnerable and disappointing at many points as well.

In order to win their second title in three campaigns, the Sparks will need to do a few things right. Here are five keys to playoff success for Brian Agler’s squad.

 

1. Aggressive perimeter defense

The Sparks have one of the top defenses in the league, and it shouldn’t be any surprise. Across the board, they have above-average defenders lining every position. But it starts on the perimeter, where reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard is paired with the extremely tough Chelsea Gray.

Not only can Beard and Gray (and Essence Carson) create a virtually impenetrable force on the perimeter, but they can allow Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike to be in perfect position defensively. The Sparks are always good defensively, but when they pick up their pressure far from the hoop, and continually harass opposing guards, they become the  top defense in the league.

 

2. Spacing

Los Angeles can shoot. They can shoot very well. But they’re often hesitant to do so. The Sparks spend a lot of time trying to work the ball inside, even when open options remain outside. When they do shoot from outside, they can be maddening in the frequency at which they shoot from just inside the three-point line.

The Sparks have a lot of very good shooters, and those shooters need to be quick to pull the trigger. It starts with Chelsea Gray, one of the league’s sharpshooters, who can sometimes be hesitant to call her own number from beyond the arc.

 

3. Energy

Many of the Sparks’ runs of inconsistency can be attributed to poor energy. The team is capable of playing at the highest level, yet often doesn’t. A lot of time this can fluctuate by the quarter; sometimes even by the possession. The playoffs are a different animal, and Los Angeles can’t afford lackluster stretches like they had during the regular season. The Sparks need to bring it 40 minutes a night, or they will be eliminated.

 

4. Candace Parker, superstar

Parker has, perhaps quietly, had another all-time great season. She hasn’t made the headlines of years past, but should be in the discussion on any media member’s MVP ballot.

At no point in the 22-year history of the WNBA have stars been as important as they are right now. While playing as a team, and having depth and strong coaching are necessary, nothing carries the weight of having a star. If you have a superstar, you can win; if you don’t, you cannot.

There’s a strong case for Parker as the top player in the league. She can still do it all for the Sparks. In order for them to celebrate on the final day of the season, she’ll need to play like the all-time great that she is.

 

5. Health

When Beard and Ogwumike missed time with injuries, the Sparks struggled, but made no excuses. When they returned, both Agler and Parker were honest in their assessments. They admitted that the team needed all of their top players. Agler in particular noted that with the growth of the league, you simply cannot win without a lot of talent.

Los Angeles has a lot of talent, as long as they stay healthy. Every champion in the history of sports has had a little luck on their side, and for the Sparks, they need that luck to come in the form of good health.