Los Angeles got back in the win column on Sunday, beating the Washington Mystics 91-83 to snap a three-game losing streak and give head coach Curt Miller his 150th career win.
“Curt continues to cement his legacy as one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches at both the collegiate and professional level,” general manager Karen Bryant said in an official statement regarding the accomplishment.
Despite the achievement, the Sparks failed to gain any ground in their push for the playoffs. With a dozen games remaining, they’ll have to play their best basketball of the season if they want to play past the regular season.
Sparks struggle to close
In the two games LA lost this past week, there was one common thread: a failure to execute in the fourth quarter.
Against the New York Liberty on Aug. 1, the Sparks were up by four entering the final frame. With 2:37 left in the game, the score was even at 67 before New York went on a 9-2 run to close the Sparks out. The Sparks experienced a similar fate in the following game against the Washington Mystics. Los Angeles was within one possession of victory but couldn’t get a stop in the closing minutes and lost 79-77.
The inability to close out games often is a characteristic of young, inexperienced teams like the Indiana Fever, who have lost seven games by five or fewer points. LA is not young and inexperienced. So why can’t they close teams out? You can point out the injuries, cite the lack of cohesion, blame the offense or say they simply are not good enough. At the end of the day, these kinds of performances are not going to get the job done down the stretch of this season. If the Sparks want to play past game 40, they’ll have to be better in the fourth.
Nneka is LA’s ray of light
In a season with more losses than wins, one player has consistently been spectacular: Nneka Ogwumike.
She is averaging 19.8 points and nine rebounds in her 31.5 minutes per game. Those numbers are comparable to her 2016 MVP season. In year 12, the All-Star starter seems to break a milestone every time she steps on the floor, and Sunday was no exception. Nneka officially passed Delisha Milton-Jones on the Sparks’ all-time assist list, giving her a top seven spot. She also earned her 97th double-double against the Mystics, passing Tamika Catchings for top five in WNBA history.
While it hasn’t resulted in wins, having a franchise player like Ogwumike on the roster is a privilege very few teams have. Re-signing Ogwumike should be priority number one for Bryant this offseason.
Los Angeles has only two games slated this week and both are winnable.
The first matchup is against the 7-21 Fever, a team the Sparks have already beaten twice this year. They will earn the season sweep with a win in Indy on Tuesday. The second game is against the 15-13 Atlanta Dream; the Sparks have dropped both games to Atlanta this season and will be looking to avoid the sweep when they face the Dream at home on Saturday.
If they pull off the pair of wins, it would be the first time the Sparks have won three games in a row this season. It also would give them some much-needed momentum as they head into a six-day break between their matchup with the Dream and their next game against the Las Vegas Aces.