The Sparks (4-3) are driving a two-game winning streak to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Mystics (3-5) on Thursday.
Two games that were long away from defeat by Nneka Ogwumike have cemented the Sparks’ identity as a defensive mainstay. Saturday’s 68-63 win over the Chicago Sky left the Sparks tied with the Sky for the WNBA’s best defensive rating.
« Players who actually see defense as a way to express their basketball identity, » said coach Derek Fisher. « The best teams in the world that have you are great defensively and not just on the offensive. »
With the Sparks going on without their leading scorer, the Mystics’ Elena Della Donne hasn’t played a minute since confetti in D.C. rained and she crowned WNBA champions in 2019. The two-time MVP underwent two surgeries to repair a herniated disc in her back within a year and plans to return later this season.
Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike will miss her fifth game in a row with a right knee injury. The Sparks said she would be re-evaluated by medical staff before moving to D.C. traveled but they ruled her out on Wednesday afternoon. During her time with the Sparks, Chiney Ogwumike also appears daily on ESPN platforms and started her own podcast « Chiney » earlier this week.
The Shorthanded Sparks added two players to their active roster on Friday and added some much-needed help. Both center Kristine Anigwe and guard Karlie Samuelson joined the Sparks after playing with the team over previous seasons.
Only Samuelson was active against Sky, but did not come on the field. The Orange County native is making his fifth return to the team, most recently in 2019, while Anigwe gave the Sparks productive minutes in the WNBA bubble last year.
Despite experience with the organization, the squad looks very different than when each of them played.
« Nneka and Chiney are very welcoming and they really are the only ones I knew before, » said Samuelson. « It’s a really fun team. »
Since rookie striker Jasmine Walker tore the cruciate ligament on the Ogwumike sisters last month, the Sparks’ injuries have the potential to determine the season. but that has not lessened the fire of Fisher’s group in seven games.
Brittney Sykes, who declared her goal for the season to be Defensive Player of the Year, said she loves the team’s bold approach.
Sykes, together with front court colleagues Nia Coffey and Amanda Zahui B., is put to the test with the offensive threats of the mystics.
Washington Center Tina Charles leads the WNBA with nearly 26 points per game. Charles led at 31 against Minnesota Lynx (3-5) in an 85-81 win on Tuesday night.
Two other Mystics players, Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen, play an average of more than 15 per game. Natasha Cloud, who dropped out of the 2020 season last season to continue social justice efforts, broke a five-game shooting slump and also posted eight assists and six steals on Tuesday.
Charles and Cloud called a team meeting when the team was 2-5 years old before defeating the Lynx and preached urgency.
« We need to talk about who we are, what our identity is, who we want to be, because that complacency and patience is fine because we learn things, but there has to be a sense of urgency, » said Cloud .
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While the Mystics continued their home streak for three games, the Sparks took a four-day break between games and traveled to the east coast for the two games.
Fisher said time allowed the team to catch their breath and be only women, not professional basketball players.
« I think there is a balance that is really important so that the athletes don’t see themselves in terms of wins and losses, » said the third-year head coach.
With your mind and body rested, you will be back on the field on Thursday at 4pm in a game televised on Spectrum Sportsnet.
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