WNBA Playoffs: Previewing the Sparks vs. Storm

As Los Angeles awaits the Seattle Storm, the Sparks will prepare for a win or go home second-round elimination game.

With the Seattle Storm eliminating the Minnesota Lynx in an 84-74 finish during the first round, the Storm will travel to Los Angeles to face the Sparks on Sunday afternoon.

The Sparks finished the season winning six of their last games with having a full 12-player squad for the last few weeks of the season. They have been poised at home with a 15-2 record at Staples Center and they finished the season with 14-straight wins at home.

The Sparks have competed against the Storm three times this season and each game was different. From the season series-opening loss in Seattle to the two dominating performances in Los Angeles, the possibilities of Sunday’s outcome are endless.

“We’re as good as our last game against them,” Nneka Ogwumike said.

With the one week bye, the Sparks have had a chance to rest for the first half of the week. Once they knew that Seattle would be their opponent, the preparation for Sunday vastly amped up.

“It’s a clean slate for everybody, so that means that people’s competitive energy is going to be at an all-time high,” Sydney Wiese said.

The Sparks can look at how they performed against the Storm on September 5th and build on it while fusing in some new things that haven’t been seen this season. The same could be said for the Storm, who looked like a completely different team against the Minnesota Lynx.

“They could also switch it up too. You can’t really anticipate — they could have new sets by the time they see us on Sunday,” the third-year guard Wiese said.

Los Angeles has been notorious for starting games slowly but finishing strong, especially at home. Within the first two minutes of a game, the Sparks come out flat on both ends of the floor and becomes a detriment to them when they sometimes find themselves playing from behind.

“Our players have talked a lot about making sure we have a purpose to everything that we’re doing,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said. “I think in the playoffs when we’re really focused on one team over a two, three or four-day period, I think it helps to have more purpose.”

Once the Sparks are settled into their offense, they are able to take care of the ball better and able to move the ball with trust in mind. The defense for the Sparks tends to open up some offensive opportunities in the transition while pushing the pace.

Seattle is a team that pushes the tempo of the game with standout second-year guard Jordin Canada anchoring them in transition. Canada’s play sets the pace and will be something that Los Angeles will look to slow down.

In their prior meeting, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt limited Canada early to help set the Sparks’ defensive tone throughout the game. Following Ruffin-Pratt’s lead, the Sparks were able to sustain a high level of defensive intensity and effort for four quarters. The Sparks made Natasha Howard ineffective on the offensive end throughout their duels this season, especially in the latest matchup.

“We were really attacking, we were being aggressive and we have to match that aggression that they bring to the court,” Ogwumike said.

The one flaw in the defense is a matter of protecting the perimeter. While the Sparks hound the Storm in the paint, they give an opportunity for shooters to knock down open shots from beyond the arc. Keeping defenders in front of those perimeter shooters will allow for the Sparks to hold the Storm under 40 percent at the least.

The Sparks are the favorite going into this game but it will be up to them to maintain a focus and perform as a unit. With a full roster available, every player is ready to contribute in every aspect.

“It really does come down to the team that is banded together and that really wants to play for one another, play for something bigger than themselves,” Fisher said. “Those are the teams that will be willing to sacrifice, the discipline more times in the moment.”

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