Sparks vs. Mystics preview: Los Angeles heads east for a clash of likely playoff teams

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 02: Chelsea Gray
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 02: Chelsea Gray /

As the 2017 season comes down to the wire, the intensity of each game rises and the importance of winning increases for teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Three teams have already secured their playoff spots and yearn to clinch the highest seed possible.

On Wednesday evening, the Washington Mystics (16-10) will host the Los Angeles Sparks (19-8) at 7pm ET in a clash of teams destined for the postseason. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

While the Sparks have already sealed their playoff spot, the Mystics are aiming to achieve the same security. They are currently fourth overall, second in the Eastern Conference, and a bid seems inevitable. But with both teams battling injury, Wednesday’s game is far from decided.

Los Angeles Sparks

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 04: Nneka Ogwumike
LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 04: Nneka Ogwumike /

The Los Angeles Sparks have stayed fairly healthy for the majority of the season. Recently, though, they faced the absence of forward Essence Carson as a result of a right elbow strain and guard Riquana Williams with a left knee strain. Only with their depth and experience have the Sparks managed to stay on track toward the ultimate goal: back-to-back championships.

Starting guard Chelsea Gray plays an integral role in the team’s success. She is having a breakout season, which includes making her WNBA All-Star debut. Gray credited her veteran teammates for her accomplishments.

“Veteran leadership makes my job easy,” she told the media during a conference call on Tuesday. “They make me look good. I just have to give them the ball and  they [finish]. The confidence they have in me and the confidence I have in them has been a good thing for me this season.”

Chemistry between the back court and front court is evident in Los Angeles’s game, and Nneka Ogwumike spoke highly of Gray as her point guard on the conference  call.

“She doesn’t just take what people give her, she creates,” Ogwumike said. “That’s what makes her a great point guard.”

Gray reciprocated and revealed her positive experience playing with Ogwumike, noting her tenacity on the glass and ability to create for herself and her teammates.

An obvious mutual understanding between players leads to outstanding fluidity on offense. Gray and Ogwumike speak for their entire team in regards to their expectations.

“Staying in the moment is key,” Gray said. “When you start looking ahead is when things go left. [We must] focus game by game, possession by possession.”

Ogwumike agreed.

“I think right now it’s important for us to stay in the moment and really focus on us,” she said. “When you have a lot of different teams fighting for a position, you can get caught up in the things that don’t have to do with your team. We know what we do well.”

The Sparks must follow this logic as they take on a Mystics team that is coming off of two wins.

Washington Mystics 

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 12: Kristi Toliver
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 12: Kristi Toliver /

The Mystics have been ravaged by injuries. Tayler Hill is out for the season with a torn ACL, while franchise player Elena Delle Donne is recovering from a groin strain and thumb injury. Still, the Mystics are near the top of the Eastern Conference and closing in on a playoff spot.

Sharp-shooter and former Sparks guard Kristi Toliver has the championship experience to push Washington forward. Part of that comes in staying level-headed.

“[A win over LA] would be meaningful,” Toliver said. “We’ve had two tough games with them, which were winnable, we feel we are capable of beating this team.”

The Mystics lost to the Sparks 99-89 in May and 76-69 in July.

Krystal Thomas has the mindset that dealing with the injuries has prepared Washington for the adversity of the playoffs.

“Right now, it’s the best part of the season,” she said. “I find a lot about myself and my teammates.”

This will be a time for teams to solidify their identities and look to maintain consistency to put them in position to win in the playoffs. According to Toliver, that means locking up home court advantage.


Seeding is important. Home-court advantage is ideal. Games are more intense and a great amount of focus in needed to close out the season strong. Both teams are expected to make a playoff run. The Mystics, however, are focused on beating the Sparks for the first time this season.  The game will be aired on ESPN2 Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.