Sparks out of playoffs with blowout loss to Sun

You lost your trainer. They lost their star center. Eventually they gambled away their playoff chances.

Needing a win to stay alive in the postseason race, the Sparks were overwhelmed by the Connecticut sun for the second time in three days, losing 93-69 on Thursday at the Arena. The blowout sealed the Sparks’ second straight season without a playoff berth, a streak of futility equaled only once in franchise history.

The organization’s most stable pillar, Nneka Ogwumike, had 10 points and nine rebounds but set a team-high with four turnovers. As the finishing touch, the all-star forward appeared to twist her ankle in the fourth quarter of the blowout and walked away cautiously as the Sparks trailed by 22 minutes and 5:14. Brittney Sykes had 18 points as the Sparks (13-22) lost for the eighth time in their last nine games, seven of those losses after center Liz Cambage’s abrupt departure.

“We’ve dealt with so much adversity on and off the pitch,” Sykes said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. So we just have to keep giving ourselves grace. … We did what we were supposed to do, and sometimes the pieces just don’t come together. But I’m proud of our team. We fought hard, so yes.”

Sparks rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa blocked Alyssa Thomas’ first try in the second half and gave the eight-year WNBA veteran a fiery look, as if to signal that the Sparks wouldn’t go down easily. But The Sun (24-11) proved why they’ve trailed behind the effortless strikes of Thomas (18 points, nine rebounds), reigning MVP Jonquel Jones (17 points) and DeWanna Bonner (13 points, seven assists) over the past four years ).

Sunday’s regular season finale against the Dallas Wings will now be just a formality before the Sparks enter a crucial off-season to remake a franchise in disarray.

Connecticut Sun guard Odyssey Sims shoots while Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson and guard Lexie Brown defend.

Connecticut Sun guard Odyssey Sims (center) shoots while Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson (left) and guard Lexie Brown defend in the second half Thursday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Katie Lou Samuelson and Chennedy Carter are the only Sparks players under protected contracts next season, meaning there is room for the next general manager to overhaul the roster. The team is without its 2023 first-round draft pick, owned by Washington. There are six unrestricted free agents, all seasoned veterans: Ogwumike, her sister Chiney, who sat out Thursday with lingering concussion symptoms; Sykes; Kristi Toliver; Lexie Brown and Jordin Canada.

Canada, who signed a one-year free agent contract last year, told The Times they hope to be back for an encore, though the Sparks are yet to appoint a coach or general manager. Will other free agents want to join her in the struggling franchise?

“Absolutely,” Canada said. “First of all, who doesn’t love being in LA? And second, just the story behind the Sparks organization and the championships and everything that happened with that organization. I think regardless of what happened this year, I think next year it’s still going to be a place that people want to come to.”

Carter returned after a four-game absence that interim head coach Fred Williams described as only a “coach’s decision.” She scored eight points off the bench and declined to discuss the details of her absence.

Williams said his “heart” made the decision to get Carter back on the ground but wouldn’t reveal details about the conversation he had with the guard who spent most of last season with the Atlanta Dream over a dated Team missed ban.

“It’s more than just basketball, it’s the mental,” Williams said. “And sometimes it gets personal. Sometimes people don’t understand that. I protect the players on it. … I was happy to see them play tonight and happy to play basketball.”

Williams, a 40-year-old veteran coach, said he’s become a “godfather” figure in the WNBA. The Sparks turned to him to guide the team through turbulent times when Derek Fisher was fired, though Williams was due to leave the team in July for taking a job as an assistant head coach with the Auburn women’s basketball program.

Instead, he stayed to lead the Sparks and said Thursday there was no guarantee we would leave despite his college commitments. Williams said he and the Sparks were “still talking about a few things.” Sparks out of playoffs with blowout loss to Sun

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