A performance that showed there is more work to do for LA
After a whole year away from the city of Los Angeles and coming into the season with many new faces, the Los Angeles Sparks knew that it would take some time to fully mesh and translate what was built in camp to the regular season.
In Friday’s home opener against a young and fast Dallas Wings team at their temporary home in the Los Angeles Convention Center, the newness of the Sparks got the best of them in a disappointing 94-71 loss to the Wings.
Surely it was not the outcome that the Sparks envisioned for an ending but they can hang their hats on the start of what can follow them through the season. This is a group that has seen different iterations through training camp for the most part with the late arrival of rookie Arella Guirantes and two trades that sent players elsewhere in the league.
The preseason games showed them areas that they could succeed in with regard to chemistry but this opening game proved that it is a continued work in progress.
“What we can take away is that we’ve gone out there and done it once, meaning we played a game,” Sparks forward-center Chiney Ogwumike, who finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, said postgame. “ We played a game together and now we just have to start building.”
It was a spirited effort to start for the Sparks in the first quarter leading by seven points but once the Wings caught some steam, they were rolling the rest of the way. Los Angeles forced 12 turnovers from Dallas and was able to convert on 13 points in the opening quarter. Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike did combine for 13 of the team’s 27 points in the first.
The second quarter was the start of what was to come in the rest of the ballgame for Los Angeles with Dallas’ comeback that featured former Sparks guard Marina Mabrey shooting efficiently for the Wings. Within the Wings’ comeback, they managed to make it a close score then took over in the quarter as they outscored the Sparks 24-14.
Wings guard Allisha Gray also went on a scoring tear of her own with 12 total points on 4-7 field goals and 4-5 free throws made in the quarter. Gray finished the game with 23 points on 46% of her field goals.
While Gray and the rest of the Wings were pushing forward, the Sparks were able to just hold them to 20 turnovers in the first half, a franchise record for turnovers in a half. The defense was also able to hold 2020 WNBA leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale and 2021 first overall pick Charli Collier to a combined seven points in the first half.
Though the Sparks were able to force the Wings to have 27 overall turnovers in the game, they were not able to convert consistently on their end of the floor with only 23 points from the turnovers. The Wings on the other hand only forced 15 Sparks turnovers but were able to produce 21 points off of them.
“We missed some easy convertible opportunities,” Sparks Head Coach Derek Fisher said postgame, “Overall, defensively as the game went on we got worse.”
Many players on the Sparks are not hesitant to shoot a three-point shot but it was not falling as much they would have liked them to throughout the game. At a certain point, the Sparks were just insistent on shooting from beyond the arc with some good selections working out but overall, that was one of their downfalls in the game.
Los Angeles finished the game on 25.9% of shots from three-point range while Dallas was excelling shooting 47.1% from the three as well.
Out of halftime, the Wings were able to inch away from the Sparks as they were able to get out to a seven-point lead early in the third quarter. As the Sparks tried to cut into the Wings’ lead, the Ogwumike duo was pushing through with Chiney making her second three-pointer of the night in response to an Ogunbowale three.
The offense for Los Angeles started to take a hit in the third quarter as they couldn’t get good shots to go in the halfcourt. The Sparks started to heavily rely on outside shots but they could not stick.
Sparks forward Nia Coffey was able to knock down back-to-back threes to make it a single-digit game in the closing minutes of the third quarter but Dallas responded and push the score back to a 10-point game into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter saw a little bit of consistency of shots at the start for Los Angeles but the Dallas Wings outplayed them throughout. The Wings outscored the Sparks 24-11 in the final quarter, outrunning them and being more aggressive in playmaking then amassed a game-high 23 point lead to end the game.
This was not the showing that the Sparks had hoped for in their opener but they know they can reflect and move forward from this loss. The improvement for the Sparks with sustaining a solid defense for a full game, having patience on offense, and simply assessing their shot selections should be things to build on this upcoming week ahead of their road trip starting in Las Vegas next weekend.
“We buckled under pressure and this is a learning experience,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “But we have a lot of work to do.”
Kristi Toliver moved up to No. 16 on the all-time assists list surpassing, interestingly enough, Dallas Head Coach Vickie Johnson. Toliver also reached 4,200 career points in the fourth quarter on a turnaround jumper.
Chiney Ogwumike notched 100 career assists and 900 career rebounds.