Road woes are an issue the team hopes to solve by playoff time.
The WNBA season is in the home stretch with just a handful of games remaining before the playoffs begin. The Los Angeles Sparks currently sit in third place as they hold the tie-breaker over the Las Vegas Aces.
With only two games left on their schedule before the postseason, the Sparks are looking to fine-tune a few things on the court as well as get used to finally having a completed healthy roster for the first time all season.
They recently returned from a three-game road trip that saw them go 1-2, beating the Indiana Fever but dropping games to elite teams in the Washington Mystics and the Las Vegas Aces. Against the Mystics, the Sparks never really had a chance as Washington jumped out on them early.
But against Las Vegas, the Sparks were in the game for most of the night. It took losing Nneka Ogwumike in the second half to illness as well as a huge fourth quarter from Aces guard Kelsey Plum to cement the loss.
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While Los Angeles has had to juggle with different lineups throughout the season, winning on the road against good teams is something they’re going to have to do in the playoffs to reach their goal of winning a championship.
“Hopefully it comes together when playoffs come. Part of it is that you’re in your routine at home, you don’t have travel and the way the WNBA travels is different,” Chelsea Gray said at Monday’s practice. “They’re not excuses, just realities. But we still got to find a way to get it done. We’re not happy with the way we go on the road, the way we are playing.”
Sparks head coach Derek Fisher attributed the Sparks struggles on the road to a lack of energy that has caused the team to get off to slow starts.
“There’s an energy that is required to be able to win on the road that we’ve struggled to maintain and sustain,” Fisher said at Monday’s practice. “We’ve got off to slow starts on the road and kind of come on as the game develops. Some of it is just an energy thing, fatigue gets us at times with a short roster on the road.”
The Sparks returned to the familiar confines of Staples Center on Wednesday night where they found themselves in a close game against the Atlanta Dream, the team with the worst record in the WNBA, before holding on to win.
Gray, who has been arguably the team’s most consistent player this season, played all 40 minutes. Her minutes have been high all season, and much of it has been necessary for the Sparks to maintain consistency on the court.
“We just haven’t been as good when she’s off the floor,” Fisher said after Wednesday’s win. “I don’t intend to do that when the game starts, but as the game goes on I don’t necessarily feel like we’re going to get the things that we can get when she’s on the court.”
The Sparks final two games of the season are Thursday night at home against the Seattle Storm and Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Lynx. Winning both those games all but assures themselves the third seed and a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite finding themselves in a tough fight against a losing team, Fisher believes a gritty win like that at home will only better prepare the team for the postseason.
“There’s a level of grit and mental toughness that you have to have in order to win in the postseason. You have to be willing to play when it’s 33-32 at halftime, or 42-39 in the third quarter and not feel like it’s supposed to be easy,” Fisher said after Wednesday’s win. “I liked that about tonight’s game, we just had to find a way.”
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