WNBA Playoffs Second Round Team Preview: LA Sparks

After an arduous and sometimes challenging regular season, the Los Angeles Sparks have a home playoff game to get to the WNBA Semifinals. On Sunday afternoon, the 3rd seed Los Angeles Sparks will host the defending champion 6th seed Seattle Storm in a single-elimination second round matchup.

During the regular season, the Sparks finished 22-12 and the Storm finished 18-16. Overall, the LA Sparks won the season series against Seattle 2-1. LA got blown out by 22 points by Seattle in June. But bounced back by winning the final two games against the Storm at Staples Center.

The Sparks are the healthier, deeper team than Seattle. If they play Sparks basketball, their overall talent and depth should prevail over 40 minutes against the Storm, especially with home court advantage. After all, the Sparks are on a 14-game home winning streak. They haven’t played a road game since August 31st. LA is the less traveled and arguably the most rested team in the WNBA heading into the playoffs.

Keeping It Simple 

If Los Angeles Sparks Head Coach Derek Fisher has his way, the 3rd seed LA Sparks will not try to reinvent themselves in the 2019 WNBA Playoffs. Instead, the Sparks will focus on doing what got them 22 wins in the regular season.

“Good passing, good spacing, good shooting, defensively being active, being physical, communication at a high level,” said Coach Fisher, when summarizing what his Sparks team needs to do to be successful in the postseason.

The Sparks free-flowing offensive principles will not change either. Rather, the coaching staff will try drill down half-court execution. They are imploring players to always make the extra and oftentimes easier pass. Those are the simple keys the LA Sparks hope will lead them to their ultimate goal of winning the 2019 WNBA Championship.

Fisher’s first WNBA playoff game

For all of his accolades, including five NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, Derek Fisher has never coached in a playoff game. Fisher is looking forward to coaching his first playoff game.

“I’m excited. I haven’t been in this position before in the W. Single elimination is different experience,” Fisher said. “I’m not out there anymore but I still love to compete. I still love to figure out what are the buttons to push to try to help the team that I’m on win.”

With that in mind, in-game adjustments will happen and new plays will be called. Fisher has done a good job of adjusting on the fly all season as he dealt with injuries, Riquna Williams’s suspension, and Eurobasket. However, Fisher explained that one magical play won’t win a game that’s typically decided over 75 possessions.

“We’re always going to be capable of and will at times, do different things in order to help us win,” Fisher said. “Yes, there will be times where we come out a timeout and we’ll do some things a little different than what we’ve done thus far. [But] one play in the 3rd quarter of a playoff game that you call out of a timeout, that’s not what gets you the trophy.”

Fisher knows that his players have been here before. He wants to be a steadying influence and put them in a position to win. It will be on them to win the game.

“Good coaches and good leaders always empower those that actually are the ones out there. It’s up to them to win and make it happen. That’s part of the gratification of the job, is that you don’t have to be the one that gets the credit for what happens out there. The players are supposed to get the credit,” Fisher continued.

Matchup with the Storm

The LA Sparks had a good feeling their second round matchup would come from the 6th/7th seed game. That’s why they spent Wednesday night together at a watch party. The team scouted the Seattle Storm during their 84-74 victory over the Minnesota Lynx.

The Sparks are intimately familiar with the Storm. Most recently, LA beat down the Storm 102-68 at Staples Center on September 5th. After that game, Sparks veteran Alana Beard told W-Insidr about how the rout affects her mentality.

“We played all four quarters and that’s something that makes me extremely proud. [It] gives me a lot of confidence going into the playoffs,” said Beard.

However, the Sparks should not expect another 34 point blowout win on Sunday. The Sparks should expect Dan Hughes’ team to be prepared, to hang close and to never quit. The Storm’s most valuable payer is 2019 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard. She will be all over the floor offensively and defensively.

However, the Sparks focus on post defense and should be able to contain Howard. The key in this specific matchup will be containing Seattle’s dynamic guard play and perimeter shooting. Jordin Canada likes to wreak havoc in the lane and Jewell Loyd is a slasher with the ability to take and make three-pointers.

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Coach Fisher has made it clear on numerous occasions that he does not believe one player can beat a team. But Canada and Loyd basically sent the Lynx home on their own. The duo combined for 48 points and played great defense. If they do that again, the Sparks may be home after just one game.

Prediction: Sparks Win

The Sparks are finally healthy and can’t seem to lose at home. Candace Parker has re-emerged after the All-Star break as a healthy two-time WNBA Player of the Week award winner during the stretch run for the LA Sparks.

“I think she is as close for this season (to 100%) as she’s been all year and you can see it in her play. Her personality, her demeanor. When you don’t feel well, you’re more irritable, it’s just different. I think she’s getting close to that 100% mark is,” Fisher said.

Nneka Ogwumike was recently named to WNBA All-Defensive First Team for the fourth time in the past five seasons. The 2016 WNBA MVP is also happy with the momentum the Sparks have created going into the playoffs, especially with the adversity of practicing with seven active players before the All-Star break.

“To be honest, I feel like that was the gut of the season. We really found ourselves in those moments. We put ourselves in a great position with a short bench and I think it helped us establish the culture of grinding and that’s what we want to do in the postseason,” Nneka Ogwumike told W-Insidr.

With Parker back, I believe the Sparks will win their 15th straight game at home on Sunday. Simply put, a healthy, talented and prepared roster led by Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker will be too much for the Storm to handle.

“Being home is always great. Traveling, especially in the postseason it poses a bit of a challenge but I’m glad we put ourselves in a position so we could be home, especially following a week of home games,” Ogwumike said. “Quite contrary to how it was last year. This feels a lot better.”

If the Sparks win on Sunday, they would immediately back their bags and hop on a cross-country flight and begin playing a best of five series against the Connecticut Sun, with the first game on Tuesday, September 17.

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