Sparks explode in thrashing Fever

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) Despite receiving news prior to tip-off that one of their best players will miss the next four to six weeks with an injury, the shorthanded Los Angeles Sparks handled business Thursday night at the Los Angeles Convention in front of fans for the first time this season. Hosting the Indiana Fever (1-9), the Sparks (3-3) dominated the game from start to finish in a 98-63 thrashing.

With the news coming hours before game time, the Sparks learned that their former MVP Nneka Ogwumike will be out for the foreseeable future after suffering a left knee sprain in their last game against the Dallas Wings Tuesday night. Ogwumike was averaging 16 points in the five games she appeared to start the year.

Heading into the game with only eight active players, head coach Derek Fisher was pleased with the effort and energy his team brought to the court.

“The reality is a core of our people won’t be here until later in the season,” Fisher said.  “So, I think what has happened is that as we’ve lost bodies, teammates and players, they’ve responded. What I saw tonight that I’m hoping can carry over is that look in everybody’s eye that they know they are going to play, and they know that they have to do their job.”

Exploding for 48 points in the first half, which included knocking down six three-pointers, with five of those coming in the first quarter, the Sparks found their offensive rhythm. In what ended up being their highest scoring total of the young season, veteran guard Kristi Toliver led the way with her best scoring output of the year. Toliver dropped 22 points on an efficient 8 of 12 shooting night, which included knocking down three three-pointers of her own.

“I think I’m just finding my form. This is certainly something that I expect from myself as far as shooting the basketball,” Toliver said. “Obviously it always feels good when you get to see the ball go into the basket. But you know coaches and teammates today specifically were really encouraging me to be aggressive offensively and that definitely fueled me.”

As a team, the Sparks had four of their five starters in double-digit points and five overall for the night. A deadly night from beyond the arc, the Sparks shot 50% from deep going 14 of 28 from the three-point line. Even though the scoring onslaught highlighted the win, the effort on defense and ability to force turnovers didn’t overlooked by their coach. On the night, Los Angeles forced 18 turnovers including seven in the first quarter.

“The defensive effort, we’re going to have to rely on that early and often and probably for the entire season in order to really be successful as a team,” Fisher said. “We have the ability to score at times like we did tonight, but we can’t rely on outscoring people just playing good offense. We have to be a team that is disruptive, that creates turnovers, and we did a better job of converting on some of those opportunities tonight.”

After dropping their first two games of the season, the Sparks have now won three of their last four games. Their next game will take place Saturday afternoon, as the quick turnaround pits the Sparks against the Chicago Sky (2-6). Los Angeles defeated the Sky in back-to-back games in Chicago last week.

In order for this season to continue heading in the right direction, the Sparks must do what they did tonight and handle business again on Saturday. With the injuries piling up early in the season for the team, the ability to win games against their weaker opponents will prove vital in keeping the team’s playoff hopes a float.