Sparks lock up, Dream eliminated from playoff race


The Los Angeles Sparks rushed out to a 14-2 lead and left little doubt from there. They held Atlanta to 28.8% from the field Friday night at home en route to a 81-56 victory.

The Sparks locked up the Dream and can lock up the #1 playoff seed with some help on Sunday. The top playoff seed belongs to Minnesota if they win. With a Lynx loss and a Sparks win over Connecticut, Los Angeles would grab the top spot.

More notes from Friday:

Big week for Beard

A nice swell has been gathering of late in support of Alana Beard as WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. She wrote about the five toughest players she’s had to guard recently on The Players’ Tribune. Beard did well on one of those five, Minnesota’s Maya Moore, in Sunday’s signature showdown and kept that momentum going on Friday.

Beard spent most of her time on Dream All-Star PG Layshia Clarendon, who shot 3-for-11 from the field. “Layshia’s a solid player. She’s an All-Star. She’s done a really great job of developing her game.” Beard said postgame.

Beard continued, “You know that she’s the type of player that likes to play physical. She’s a passer, but we probably want to put length on her to take her vision away. That was the scheme for tonight.”

Her teammates can guard, too

Beard and her teammates certainly executed on that end of the floor. One of those teammates, starting guard Odyssey Sims (13 points, 7 assists, 2 steals), raved about the DPOY candidate: “I look up to her, especially on the defensive end. She’s great. I haven’t seen a player on the defensive end that can play like her.”

Sims went on to praise Beard’s defensive ability as well as the impact she’s had as a teammate, saying, “She helps out, she’s just all over the place and she always manages to come up with steals.”

“I wanna be like her — being in the running for defensive player of the year, get first team all-defense.” Sims said.

“I’ve really been focused on just trying to watch her in practice and tell her to help me when I’m on help side. ‘Hey, where should I be?’ I always ask her to watch me. She’s a great vet and doesn’t mind helping. And I love her for that.”

Sims drew a demanding assignment Friday as well, matching up with All-Star Tiffany Hayes.

The appreciation between the two Sparks guards is mutual. Asked to speak on Sims’ defensive impact, Beard said, “It’s huge. Before every game, I kind of whisper in her ear, ‘Stay in it, stay in it. Don’t let ’em breathe,’ because I know when she’s doing her job, it’s making my job easier and vice-versa.”

Beard also acknowledged Sims’ versatility. At times this season, both have matched up with opposing lead ball handlers.

“When she’s at the helm, we’re feeding off of her because it’s very hard to play against her as a point guard because she’s low, she’s in tune, she’s quick and she’s gonna beat you to the spot. So with us, it helps with the wings and the post players because it throws their timing off in terms of catching the ball. So it’s been a good mix right now.”

Bench gets extended run

The Sparks led by 20 or more for most of the fourth quarter. Head Coach Brian Agler was able to go to his bench for some extra minutes. Rookie Sydney Wiese went for 9 points and two assists in just over 21 minutes.

2016 Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender led all bench scorers with 12. Forwards Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Sandrine Gruda and Maimouna Diarra each played at least half of the final period (7 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals combined). Essence Carson logged 27 minutes, and Riquna Williams did not play (knee strain).

The Sparks are 25-8 overall and 15-1 at home in 2017. Whether they lock up the top spot or not, well, Alana Beard may have said it best. The Sparks have found a good mix.

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