Sure, there’s still a glimmer of hope for the Sparks: Two more victories paired with two losses by the Washington Mystics and L.A. will still be in business when the postseason begins.
The Sparks (11-19) have to win Thursday in Atlanta (8-22) and Sunday in Dallas (13-18).
But they also need the Mystics (who are 12-18 with a tie-breaking head-to-head record of 2-1 vs. L.A.) to lose to New York and Minnesota. Washington faces the Liberty (who are 11-19 and face Connecticut tonight) on the road Friday and takes on the Lynx (20-10) at home Sunday.
Anything else and Coach Derek Fisher’s squad will miss the postseason for just the fifth time in the franchise’s 25-year history.
In that case, the Sparks will turn their focus to the lessons they can glean from a trying 2021 season – an up-and-down summer encapsulated by the team’s past two results: After falling behind 17-0 Thursday and wilting against first-place Connecticut in an 18-point loss, the Sparks came to work Sunday facing do-or-die postseason prospects and stunned everyone by blowing out the defending champion Seattle Storm, 81-53.
“Hopefully the biggest thing we learned is how to manage our thought process and our energy, our ability to focus on the small details and a situation where there’s an expectation that you have to win in order to ‘advance,’” Fisher said, via Zoom, after his team’s practice Wednesday in Atlanta.
The difference between those games, Fisher said, was that the Sparks – so defensively adept all season – got it going early offensively, outscoring Seattle 24-13 in the first quarter.
“Those are things that I think help us to have confidence as a team, as a staff, that this is gonna be a good night,” said Fisher, whose team shot 48.4% overall and had four players score 15 or more points in the win.
“That was the difference. We really didn’t see the ball go in at all against Connecticut early in that game and it’s like their confidence continued to grow each possession and ours went down after each possession. So just (to get) some early positive feedback, for a team like ours that has been through a lot of ups and downs and injuries, with who’s in and who’s out, and competing really hard but coming up short, sometimes that early positive feedback, it energizes the group.”
If they’re going to get back on their regularly scheduled playoff schedule, Fisher’s Sparks – who lost stars Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray in free agency – will have to figure out how to create such positive momentum consistently.
“Obviously there’s certain things that are in your control and there are certain things that aren’t,” said Nneka Ogwumike, the sole returning member of the Sparks’ “big three” this season.
“I just really hope that no matter how everything unfolds this season, I hope that we as a team will individually and collectively understand that there are moments when you do have your fate in your hands and you don’t want it to come down to what other people do, which is kind of where we find ourselves right now.”
SPARKS (11-19) at DREAM (8-22)
When: Thursday, 4 p.m.
Where: Gateway Center Arena, Atlanta
TV: Amazon Prime
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) September 14, 2021