Preview: Sparks ready to face Phoenix Mercury in opener

Sparks to open the season against the Phoenix Mercury with fresh legs and motivation for change

Candace Parker (right) said that to her, being part of the sports restart meant a lot for her to take part in the bubble for the 2020 season. (Photo by Jerry Kelly)

Opening weekend is here for the WNBA and the Los Angeles Sparks are set to take on the Phoenix Mercury this afternoon.

Both teams’ acquired new pieces to fit into the mold of their highly touted cultures within the league. Fans will get the first look of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley in Mercury jerseys while Brittney Sykes, Marie Gülich, Reshanda Gray, Te’a Cooper, Kristine Anigwe and Seimone Augustus in Sparks jerseys. Mercury fans also get to see a fully healthy Diana Taurasi in action as well after she only saw game action in six games last season due to a back injury.

In 2019, the Sparks defeated the Mercury 2-1 in their season series. In their last meeting in the regular season, Nneka Ogwumike and Britney Griner led the way for their respective squads. In the early seasons of the league, the two teams had a budding rivalry that has dissolved a bit over time but still maintains a competitive, high tempo matchup.

Throughout the season series, the Sparks held the Mercury to a three-point percentage of 33% while Los Angeles shot 42% from the three. Phoenix held the advantage on the boards out-rebounding the Sparks 109-99 in total rebounds. From the field, Los Angeles shot 46% while the Mercury shot 38%. The Sparks managed to hold the Mercury to just under 75 points on average during their season series.

The Sparks will be rolling out the starting lineup that they ended the 2019 season with consisting of Chelsea Gray, Riquna Williams, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Candace Parker, and Ogwumike. Fisher told media on Friday afternoon that the team wanted to maintain some continuity within the first unit.

In preparation for their tip-off this afternoon, the Sparks have made sure not to go too hard in practice that it wears out the players. They have been intentional about preserving bodies during camp and practices so that they could be at a good state come the middle of the season and beyond. Fisher said that they didn’t want to overdo it in Friday’s practice, especially the day before a game, to make sure that they still have legs under them.

“We wanted to ensure that we show up and everyone will be available or at least as many bodies as possible,” Fisher said.

When it comes to managing minutes for the players, Fisher said that they have to be smart about how to monitor them during play to see how they feel as games go on.

Sparks newcomer Marie Gülich was listed as out on the injury report while the Phoenix Mercury had no injuries to report.

Even though their game against the Mercury is technically an away game, Candace Parker feels good and is relieved that the commute to the arena is not as strenuous as it would normally be. The way players normally travel during a season takes a toll on the body and affects play. The commute from the IMG Academy to the Feld Entertainment Arena is just about a 15-minute drive.

“I think recovery, just not as much a commute, takes the pressure off my back,” Parker said. “We have seven days and we’re playing four games so it’ll be nice not having to travel.”

As the league takes part in the sports restart amidst the coronavirus and civil unrest around the country, they have taken precautions around the virus and used their platform for the greater good. The opportunity to play in the bubble for the season is something that players are not taking for granted as they get to compete for a championship and advocate for issues and initiatives on their huge platform as a unit.

“It means a lot to be part of the sports restart. It definitely validated my decision to play in the bubble just because with all of the uncertainties, we’re pulling this off and it’s all going as according to plan,” Parker said.

Players had the opportunity to take part in a webinar call with Breonna Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer, Lonita Baker, Stacey Abrams, and Kimberlé Crenshaw earlier this week that was presented by the WNBA and the WNBPA Social Justice Council. The players walked away more informed and motivated to keep going in the fight for justice and change.

Nneka Ogwumike said the call was a remarkable moment and touted that as players, they are in the bubble for a bigger purpose outside of basketball. As basketball is their vessel, their voices are louder as a unit while they are in the bubble.

This opening weekend in the WNBA is dedicated to Black Lives Matter as players will wear Breonna Taylor’s name on their jerseys.

Los Angeles will tip-off against the Phoenix Mercury at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.

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