Rest Key to Sparks’ Second Half Surge

Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike battles for a rebound against the New York Liberty Wednesday, July 21, 2015. Photo by dennis J. Freeman

LOS ANGELES- For the Los Angeles Sparks, getting a couple of days rest and getting their all-star forward back may be the antidote the team needs to turn their season around from a won-loss perspective. The Sparks are 3-13 going into the all-star break. After playing the second of back-to-back games, their weary legs can use some rejuvenation.

They can also use the services of Candace Parker as part of their offensive arsenal.

Like most games they’ve played this season, the Sparks got it right on the defensive end against the New York Liberty Wednesday, July 22 at Staples Center. The Sparks held the Liberty to just 25 percent shooting from the field. That is a pretty impressive stat line considering that the Liberty have a couple of top-notch players in Tina Charles, Swin Cash and Epiphanny Prince.

Where the Sparks ran into trouble is putting the ball in the basket themselves, and picking up more rebounds. After a grinding their way to their third win of the season one night ago against the Phoenix Mercury, it was telling that the Sparks didn’t have much gas left in the tank against the Liberty in their 59-53 defeat at home.

Sparks guard Kristi Toliver on the move against the New York Liberty. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman
Sparks guard Kristi Toliver on the move against the New York Liberty. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

The efforts was there, but the results were not. The Sparks shot just 31 percent from the field. They were also outrebounded by the Liberty by a 55-33 margin. That’s not exactly a recipe on how to win a ballgame. Yet the Sparks kept themselves in the contest with their outstanding defensive play, something that first-year coach Brian Agler has effectively instilled into the team.

Energy-wise, the Sparks have brought it just about most nights during the first half of the WNBA season. Other than early season defeats to Seattle and Minnesota, the Sparks’ grit-and-grind style of basketball has kept them in every game. For sure the Sparks’ defensive tenacity has improved dramatically under Agler.

The Sparks are a far cry from the run-and-gun, spin-your-way-down-the-court team from years past. This is the lunch pail crew. They battle and battle, even if their record does not currently reflect that. In their 70-65 win against heralded WNBA star Brittney Griner, the Sparks kept the all-star in check.

For the evening, Griner’s numbers were 4 of 12 shooting from the field, 13 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes of action. As a team, the Sparks forced the Mercury into 45 percent shooting from the field. Their defensive prowess against the Liberty was even more eye-popping.The Sparks were all over Charles, forcing her into a 4 of 11 shooting percentage from the field. Prince didn’t fare too well herself, connecting on just 3 of 13 field goal attempts.

The Sparks didn’t have the legs on the offensive side of the ball to finish the game with a win. After going for 19 points and 11 rebounds in the win against the Mercury, center Jantel Lavender’s numbers dropped to 12 points and 7 boards against the Liberty. All-star forward Nneka Ogwumike only attempted nine shots in 37 minutes, contributing six points.

The sharpshooter, Kristi Toliver, didn’t fare well at all, hitting just 5 of 18 shots from the field. After dropping a franchise-record 43 points earlier in the season, Toliver has been hit-and-miss with her shooting. But inconsistency can have a lot to do with the legs. A few days of rest should get Toliver’s stroke back on point.

It should also be a welcoming necessity for the Sparks’ offense to get untracked in the second half of the season.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1064 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.