LOS ANGELES — In the second home game in three days, Sparks head coach Curt Miller wants his team to play all 40 minutes with a sense of urgency and desperation against the New York Liberty on Tuesday.
Sparks forward Azurá Stevens wholeheartedly agrees.
“There’s no writeup on it,” Stevens shared. “It’s just doing it. I don’t know what else we need to say about it, it’s just we have to do it.”
That’s because down 80-58 with 5:26 to go, Miller and Stevens saw a spark Sunday.
That glimmer of tenacity fueled a late 15-0 run on Sunday, turning what was a 22-point deficit, into a frantic, yet competitive last five minutes against New York.
The Sparks never led and would ultimately lose 87-79. However, after being down 21-2 early, Miller saw something late he believes the team can build upon.
“New York challenges teams in this league so much with their spacing and their ability to shoot threes,” Miller said. “(Sunday) was no exception and really led early by Marine Johannès (five 3-pointers in the first half) and really helped spread us out. It seemed like we were always playing a game of tag the whole night but again proud of our fight. A lot to learn from.
“We’ll go back to the film and this is the fun part of the chess match when you play a team two times in a row. What are the adjustments and how can we convey that to our team and get back at it Tuesday night.”
Despite being hit with injuries and illnesses this season, exemplified by the team using 15 different starting lineups through 25 games, the Sparks (9-16) are only one game behind the Chicago Sky for eighth place in the 12-team league (the final playoff berth).
I’m breaking down the LA Sparks 87-79 loss to the New York Liberty with Women’s Hoops World’s Sue Favor (@hoopism). We’re talking about Liberty’s All-Star lineup. Also, with 15 games left in the regular season, should the Sparks organization want to make the 2023 WNBA playoffs? pic.twitter.com/U9kQC4IZfE
— John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) July 31, 2023
New York (19-6) is currently second in the standings. With 15 games left in the regular season, New York is looking to secure home-court advantage in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. The Sparks will need to counter 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, who scored 25 points on Sunday. They also need to account for 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones’ double-double prowess, in particular her rebounding, and All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu’s outside shooting (4 for 7 from 3-point range). New York made 15 of 34 three-point attempts, shooting 44.1% from behind the arc Sunday.
Sparks two-time All-Star Dearica Hamby scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench Sunday. Hamby was one of four Sparks in double figures along with Jordin Canada (17), Stevens (13), and Nneka Ogwumike (10).
“I think we have to find the identity of this team and what makes us unique and different on the defensive end and stick to that,” Hamby said. “They have a lot of great players but not being so focused on who they have and just focus on what we’re good at.”
“We were moving the ball,” Stevens added. “Everybody was getting touches. We were swinging it around. (Jordin Canada) was getting downhill, drawing the defense. It was a lot of movement and I think sometimes we get a little stagnant and so we have to make them work on defense, just like they’re making us work every possession. We have to turn around and do the same thing back to them.”
Hamby believes the Sparks have the right pieces to make things work no matter which combination is on the court together.
“Every guard on this team is very versatile and every post player on this team is very versatile,” she said. “(Layshia Clarendon) has been a point guard her entire life and she’s playing the three right now. She’s got size and then obviously our post players are quadruple-dimensional. We can all kind of do everything, so I think we have to. It’s a new group but we’re figuring it out. We were kind of getting back healthy but just figuring out and gelling together.”
However, New York is averaging 88.6 points per game, so the Sparks will simultaneously need to step up their defense and find enough offense between points in the paint and fast break points, to outscore the league’s second-highest-scoring team.
The Sparks also know they have to shoot better from 3-point range as a team, especially after shooting guard Lexie Brown (12.4 points and 41.5% from 3-point range) has missed the last two games with a non-COVID illness. The Sparks are currently shooting 31.3% from 3-point range, which is the second-worst percentage in the league.
“In this league right now, it is kind of layups and threes,” said Hamby, who helped the Las Vegas Aces win last season’s WNBA championship. “There was probably only one team that was able to beat a team with two’s and that was the Vegas team three years ago with Liz Cambage. We have to have confidence like (Stevens) said and knock that shot down because we’re getting them up. I just think our percentage could be a bit better.”
NEW YORK AT SPARKS
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV