Los Angeles has endured the first half of the season with a “next woman up” mentality that will continue on following the All-Star break.
Led by All-Stars Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray, the Sparks (11-8) have been able to stay the course to sit in fourth place in the league standings.
Ogwumike and Gray represented the Sparks in this year’s All-Star game in Las Vegas in which Gray’s Team Wilson defeated Team Delle Donne 129-126. Ogwumike led Team Delle Donne with 22 points, six rebounds, and two assists while Gray had eight points, five rebounds, and 10 assists for Team Wilson.
“There was a lot of positive energy in the building. It was good to see them and to be there for it,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said.”
Ogwumike and Gray are having great seasons that deemed them worthy of appearances in the game. With injuries and other matters affecting the team this season, their leadership and play have helped the Sparks to maintain a good position amongst some of the league’s best.
The Sparks have dealt with the injury bug throughout the season with Candace Parker (hamstring/ankle), Alana Beard (hamstring), and Alexis Jones (knee) being sidelined for long periods of time.
Maria Vadeeva was also not with the team for the first half of the season due to overseas commitments in the EuroBasket tournament. Following the tournament, Vadeeva sustained a knee injury.
Riquna Williams also began her 10-game suspension, stemming from her domestic violence case, at the beginning of July against the Dallas Wings.
In the team’s first practice after the break, there were some familiar faces in Vadeeva, Jones, and Parker participating in activities as they looked good on the floor according to Fisher. It will be a gradual build to having everyone back to full strength for the Sparks.
Despite not having these players on the floor in July, the Sparks maintained a 5-2 record for the month. With some impactful players out, it was up to the players who would have limited minutes to step up and contribute when they are needed.
The Sparks have benefitted to having Kalani Brown, Marina Mabrey and Sydney Wiese bring the energy when their numbers are called.
“He [Fisher] didn’t draft me to sit. Whether it’s two minutes, 30 seconds, or whatever,” Brown said about her playing time and production.
“I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to give 100%”
The “next woman up” mentality has been something that has been preached from Fisher throughout the season. Whether it is doing the little things or making the right plays, those things matter for the Sparks as they continue to compete.
The Sparks’ roster will be a big adjustment once the team gets back to full strength. It will be a task for Fisher to figure out the rotations that do not neglect the players who have been keeping the team afloat.
“They shouldn’t just get thrown out as though they have no value just because of the players that are coming back,” Fisher said.
As the days get closer to the Sparks’ matchup against the Las Vegas Aces (13-6) on Thursday, practice will gradually ramp up as they prepare to take them on. The Sparks are maintaining their expectations for the second half of the season by knowing that they can compete at a high level against any opponent.