By Dennis J. Freeman
The Los Angeles Sparks have not had the type of season they were expecting when training camp opened. Loaded with a deep roster of talented veterans and upstart young players, the Sparks were expecting to make a deep push in the postseason.
Depending on how the Sparks play the rest of the season that still might happen.
A run for the WNBA title wasn’t a far-fetched idea not too long ago with the likes of Tina Thompson, Candace Parker and Delisha Milton-Jones in the lineup. But right about now the Sparks will take winning one game at a time as their immediate goal.
Winning consistently, which the team has failed to do all season, is also on the agenda for Sparks Coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.
Bryant, who began the season as the team’s assistant coach before taking over the head coaching reigns from the ousted Jennifer Gillom, has both the experience and the moxie to make things happen for the Sparks. In a previous coaching stint with the Sparks, Bryant guided the team to two playoff berths.
But after watching the Sparks barely dispatch a listless Tulsa Shock team-a team with just one win in 20 games this season-it’s clear that Bryant and his staff have a ton of work to do to rekindle that postseason magic. The tools and the talent are all in place for the Sparks to make a successive push for the postseason.
However, it is a matter of energy and synergy for the Sparks, which is missing the dominating presence of the versatile Parker and played the Shock without the services of explosive guard Kristi Toliver. Considered to be one of the premier franchises in the WNBA, the Sparks look as though they have lost their mojo on the court.
It’s pretty uncharacteristic for the Sparks to have the season they’re having so far. Right now the Sparks find themselves in fifth place in the West and the season dwindling down faster than a hiccup. After winning the first four of the five games they played to start the season, the Sparks have lost 12 of their last 16 games.
Some of those losses could be attributed to not having Parker in the lineup after she went down with an injury. But the Sparks are still a playoff-caliber team even without Parker. Thompson, the league’s all-time leading scorer, can still take younger players to school with her tenacity and scoring ability.
Milton-Jones is a force on the boards. Ebony Hoffman, Noelle Quinn, Jantel Lavender and Jenna O’Hea give the Sparks the youthful legs and speed to compete.
When the Sparks are in need of a dash of toughness, guard Ticha Penicheiro finds ways to inject that lifeline into them. What is missing from the team is cohesiveness and rhythm . Every successful team eventually finds their way to that path. Right now time is running out on the Sparks to be able to generate that corrective meshing. But if there is a team and coach who can get their act together and turn things around, it’s the Sparks and Joe Bryant.