What Went Wrong For Sparks Against Storm?

 

By Brady Klopfer

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The Sparks are starting something of a dichotomy for a frontcourt. The combination of Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker is an unmatchable concoction of star talent, a duo of MVPs who are both in their prime.

That pairing is the most dangerous one-two punch in the association and, for the most part, an unsolvable problem for the league’s 11 other teams. But on Thursday night in a shocking blowout loss to the Storm, LA’s power pairing was on display for the wrong reasons.

Against Breanna Stewart and Natasha Howard, Parker and Ogwumike looked surprisingly mortal. They couldn’t match the speed or the strength of their counterparts. Most distressing was the coverage, or lack thereof, in the pick and roll. Time and time again, Seattle’s Sue Bird pulled the interior defense out of the paint, then found a rolling big with the defensive recovery coming a second too late.

The lack of interior defense was jarring, and the Sparks were unable to adjust, often overcompensating. Trying to cut off the passing lanes, Parker and Ogwumike began to creep a little too far from the rim, leaving Stewart and Howard uncovered; then they’d get hesitant to leave the paint, only for Seattle to take advantage of increased space to work with.

The Storm mustered 40 points in the paint, but most shocking was the 69 percent clip they shot from there. Uncontested layups were the norm, as LA’s defenders were frequently caught in no-man’s land, not quite committing to the perimeter or to the interior.

After the game, coach Brian Agler keyed in on Seattle’s willingness to push the tempo as a reason why the Sparks struggled defensively.

“We just didn’t get good rotations,” Agler remarked. “We were continually in defensive transition mode, not getting matched up, and they came down early on and quickly.”

The transition game did repeatedly throw the Sparks out of defensive rhythm, as Ogwumike and Parker in particular were trying to locate their assignments while checking for uncovered opponents. But more than anything, it was simply being a step slow with not only their rotations, but their decision making. Against a team as methodical as Seattle, the milliseconds of hesitation in defensive decision making provided all the opportunity needed for the Storm to feast. Stewart and Howard combined for 32 points, and in the rare instances when they were sufficiently covered, a cutter would saunter down the lane for an easy two.

Ogwumike and Parker still represent the WNBA’s most dangerous duo, and Thursday’s game was more likely an aberration due to lack of energy than anything else. But in a league that is trending towards size and athleticism, LA’s star teammates will need to make some defensive adjustments to keep the Sparks at the top of the league.