The Sparks started the season with the mantra “time to show.” Center Liz Cambage, who unceremoniously parted ways with the Australia national team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and joined her fourth WNBA team, was credited with introducing the slogan to the marketing team and her teammates. With the controversial star gone, the Sparks have been quick to adopt a new rallying cry.
“Just stick together,” Nneka Ogwumike said Thursday after the Sparks lost 90-80 to Phoenix Mercury in their first game since Cambage’s abrupt departure. “It was another obstacle for us to figure out how to stick together and that’s really what it’s about. That was sort of our motto this whole season.”
Trying to weather the ups and downs of a tumultuous season, the Sparks are now trying to simply keep up in a tight postseason race. They hit another bump with Thursday’s loss as they slipped to seventh behind Phoenix (13-16), who jumped from eighth to sixth. The Sparks (12-16) are tied with Dallas for the last two playoff positions, while Atlanta (12-17) is just a half game away.
If missing out on the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade and then firing the coach midseason didn’t signal how dramatically the Sparks had fallen, then Cambage’s “contract divorce” announced Tuesday definitely will. Beyond the current playoff push, the franchise is poised for a major overhaul this offseason. Derek Fisher’s successor must clean up the mess of the former head coach and general manager that has made the once-proud franchise an afterthought at best and a laughing stock at worst.
The team’s Twitter account attempted to shed light on the situation on Thursday. Tweeting a graphic of the 54-32 Halftime score and a nervous smile emoji.
While Cambage was averaging just 13 points — her lowest total since her rookie season — the Sparks had built their offense on scoring in the paint with Ogwumike and Cambage. Given the brunt of the Mercury defense, Ogwumike worked for 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on six of 14 shots.
Interim head coach Fred Williams was hoping the team could shift to a more perimeter-oriented offensive play this week, but that strategy was hit hard when three-point marksman Lexie Brown injured her ankle after just two minutes. She didn’t return, and the Sparks went three-for-21 from three-point range, including a 0-for-12 start.
The Sparks are the second worst three-point shooter team in the WNBA at 33.6% and have the fewest three-pointers per game at 16.6.
When asked if the first game without Cambage made any significant changes needed for the final eight games of the regular season, Williams made a light-hearted comment.
“Yeah, just putting the ball in the basket, that’s the drastic change,” Williams said. “Win or lose, it’s all about putting the ball in the basket.”
Chennedy Carter carried the offense off the bench with a season-high 23 points on an 8-of-10 shooting. The third-year Guard had a 15-point performance against Las Vegas last weekend, their first game after a knee injury saw them sit out three weeks.
Carter was one of the Sparks’ intriguing offseason acquisitions after the former Atlanta guard missed most of last season due to a suspension for unspecified conduct against the team. Chemistry issues were an issue, especially with the combustible Cambage.
But Carter is toying with something he needs to prove.
“Playing for the WNBA means a lot, and actually playing for Los Angeles,” said the 23-year-old. “Being out there every moment is a great opportunity and I never want to waste it.”
Amid the dramatic season, Carter credited veteran teammates like Ogwumike for helping her focus on the court and embrace her role as a high-energy bencher.
“I want you all to know that we’re going through a lot,” Carter said, “but we have a lot of great vets, a lot of great leaders who keep our circle tight.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/sparks/story/2022-07-29/sparks-lose-mercury-after-liz-cambage-departure-vow-stick-together Sparks vow to ‘Just stick together’ after Liz Cambage exit