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WNBA Team Preview: Los Angeles Sparks (#2)

After winning the 2016 WNBA championship and two consecutive Finals appearances, the Sparks look to win their second title in three years.

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Los Angeles Sparks v Phoenix Mercury - Game Three
Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike walks out to the court before a 2017 WNBA semifinals game.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Sparks finished the 2017 season as the WNBA runner-up, after losing the Finals to the Lynx in a hard-fought Finals series. Though they were unsuccessful defending their 2016 WNBA Championship, the Sparks still matched their 2016 regular-season record by going 26-8.

In 2018, the Sparks have no intention to take a step back in the WNBA standings. They still have most of their key contributors from the last two seasons and LA also added two key players by drafting Maria Vadeeva and signing Cappie Pondexter in free agency.

Will that be enough for the Sparks to win their second championship in three years?

What to expect

Familiar faces

The Sparks are returning the bulk of their core from the 2016 and 2017 teams. The All-Star front line of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike are back. In the backcourt, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard and point guard Odyssey Sims also return.

Chelsea Gray also returns from the 2017 team.

The Sparks will also bring back Serbian guard Ana Dabovic this season. Dabovic played in 2015 and 2016 for LA, where she developed a career scoring average of six points per game. In her rookie season (2015), Dabovic averaged 8.8 points per game and became a member of the All-Rookie Team.

Notable newbies

The Sparks’ 2018 first-round draft pick is 19-year-old Dynamo Kursk center Maria Vadeeva. Vadeeva will give a huge boost to LA’s already-strong front-court rotation. She will get her fair share of time.

LA’s biggest free agent signing is veteran guard Cappie Pondexter. Pondexter has been one of the WNBA’s most potent perimeter scorers since she entered the league in 2006. Though Pondexter is not in her prime anymore, she will still be a substantial boost for the Sparks, presumably off the bench.

Biggest obstacles

Like the Lynx, multiple Sparks players were overseas at the start of training camp. Nneka Ogwumike and Maria Vadeeva are still overseas playing for Dynamo Kursk, where they were in the Russian PBL Finals against UMMC Ekaterinburg.

The Sparks also have to figure out how their already-stacked front-court rotation will work out. Vadeeva is undoubtedly talented and has proven she can play at a high level in professional competition. But how much playing time will Vadeeva receive on a team that already features Ogwumike, Parker and Jantel Lavender in the post? Can all four posts be satisfied with their playing time, in particular, if the Sparks do not win games like they have in the last two seasons?

Game zone

Preseason home opener

Sparks vs. Chinese National Team

Saturday, May 12 at 5 p.m. ET.

Pasadena City College’s Hutto-Patterson Gym — Tickets

Season home opener

Sparks vs. Phoenix Mercury

Sunday, May 27 at 5 p.m. ET.

STAPLES Center — Tickets