The Los Angeles Sparks are struggling. They lost all three games during their recent road trip and the injuries continue accumulating as Curt Miller and the staff struggle to put together any semblance of an ideal or optimized lineup on the floor.
“Our starting lineup on opening night and that’s still without Jasmine Thomas healthy, without Azurá, tonight going back and looking at our opening day starting lineup, we had four starters out tonight,” Miller said after their loss to Atlanta on the road.
But before playing the Dream, the Sparks spent another night in the Windy City competing against a Chicago Sky team that suddenly was under the leadership of interim head coach Emre Vatansever with James Wade accepting a role as a Toronto Raptors assistant coach and stepping down from his general manager/head coaching position with Chicago.
You would think the sudden change would give L.A. the advantage, but Chicago came out sharp, especially Courtney Williams, who had one of her better games of the season. She had her first career triple-double with 12 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.
Fielding only nine players, the Sparks struggled to get enough production from their core in the fourth to get a comeback win. Thomas started for L.A. but struggled, going 0-of-5 from the field in her 19 minutes of play. Zia Cooke had an up-and-down game scoring 10 points off the bench but shooting 30 percent from the field.
One of the few bright spots in the defeat was Dearica Hamby. She had a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 boards, and she was plus-2 in her 30 minutes of play.
The final game of the road trip found L.A. in Atlanta unable to stop Rhyne Howard from getting buckets. She performed an offensive masterclass, scoring a career-high 43 points and excelling in every way possible, from driving to the paint, mid-range shots, elbow jumpers and going 6-of-12 from three and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
You could chalk up this game to Howard just being too good, but the Sparks were dominated for most of the game. They were outscored 34-28 in the opening frame and although they made a few runs here and there, by the second half, Atlanta was in complete control and the outcome was never in question.
L.A.’s 3-point shooting woes continued on Sunday, as they went 5-of-18 from downtown (27.8 percent). They were outrebounded 40-33 and their 10 steals didn’t result in easy baskets as they only had four points on fast breaks. A bright spot in the defeat was Azurá Stevens, who scored 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting — an encouraging sign from a player who has struggled to string together productive games in a Sparks jersey.
With the Sparks having to rely on hardship players like Destanni Henderson and rookies like Zia Cooke, and having to give veterans like Jasmine Thomas more minutes than you’d want to play them, it’s becoming harder and harder for this team to build momentum and win games.
“Today was the first day we really felt it,” Miller said postgame in Atlanta regarding the injury woes plaguing the team.
And with the injury report for Wednesday night’s game still having Chiney Ogwumike and Lexie Brown out, the struggles could continue. One silver lining is it looks like starting point guard Jordin Canada will return. She missed Sunday’s game due to a shoulder injury, but wasn’t listed on the injury report for Wednesday’s matchup.
Los Angeles has three games left to play before the All-Star break. The first game is a rematch against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday, but this time it’s the Dream that will have to go on the road. On Sunday, the Sparks head to Phoenix to play the 3-12 Mercury. They conclude the first half of the WNBA season by playing the superteam Aces next Wednesday in Las Vegas. Winning all three games and ending the first 20 at .500 seems like a daunting task, but even going 2-1 would be an encouraging sign for L.A. as they enter a much-needed break.