Three weeks of home cooking helped the Sparks climb from off-season to playoff pole position.
The Sparks ended their seven home games Thursday with an 85-78 win over the Atlanta Dream and jumped to sixth place in a tight playoff race with five teams vying for three postseason spots.
Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with 20 points in 9-of-11 shooting two days after their season-high 35 against Indiana Fever. Chiney Ogwumike had a season-high 15 points with seven rebounds as the Sparks (12-14) leveled the season streak against the Dream.
After ending up wrong in a three-game tiebreak and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the Sparks know the importance of winning those crucial matchups. Instead of focusing on the standings, guard Brittney Sykes narrows the playoff race down to single-team series. The technique she learned while playing for Atlanta for former coach Nicki Collen and kept Sykes from being overwhelmed all season. It’s their trick to get through the season.
“It’s a numbers game,” Sykes said this month.
Leading 2-1 in the regular season against 8th-place Dallas (11-14) and 9th-place Phoenix (11-16), the Sparks have one away game against each opponent this season and are 1-1 with Minnesota. which sits in 10th place with a 10-17 record. The deciding game against the Dream (12-15) will take place on August 5th in Atlanta.
After a 77-75 loss to Atlanta earlier this season sparked the Sparks’ five-game losing streak, the Sparks used an even performance and four double-digit scorers to level the streak. Katie Lou Samuelson and Sykes each added 12 points as the Sparks finished the home stand with back-to-back victories, including a shorthanded win over Fever on Tuesday in which just eight Sparks players participated.
“When the numbers go down, we just stick together, we bring our circle closer together,” forward Jasmine Walker said in training on Wednesday. “Everyone on our team, eight players, five players or not, everyone is capable of doing the same thing.”
The Sparks welcomed reinforcements Thursday as guard Chennedy Carter (knee) played for the first time since July 1 and center Liz Cambage returned from health and safety protocols. Carter was limited to just 12 minutes off the bench but made them count with seven points, an assist and two steals.
The Sparks had 26 points in 21 turnovers in Atlanta.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/sparks/story/2022-07-21/sparks-vs-atlanta-dream-wnba-playoff-race Sparks beat Dream to jump into sixth in WNBA playoff race