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Preview: Sun aim to clinch double-bye

As the regular season winds down and the playoffs near, the Sun and the Sparks go head-to-head in a matchup that will help determine who finishes first and eighth this season.

Connecticut Sun v Dallas Wings
Jonquel Jones could very well be this season’s MVP.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

The Connecticut Sun (22-6), winners of their last 10 games, travel to face the Los Angeles Sparks (10-18), who have dropped their last five games, on Thursday at 10:30 pm ET. As the regular season comes to a close, the Sun are sitting just 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Las Vegas Aces while the Sparks are half a game behind the eighth-place New York Liberty.

For the third consecutive week, Sun center Jonquel Jones was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, just days after being named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the month of August. Jones is a prime Most Valuable Player candidate, as she averages 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds.

The Sun are not a high-scoring team with the fourth-worst scoring offense at 79.2 points per game. Yet, Connecticut is the best defensive team in the league, holding teams to 70.7 points, which is 7.3 points better than the next team. It is their defensive prowess that has carried them all year.

Despite Nneka Ogumike being available for just 14 games, she leads LA in scoring and rebounding with averages of 14.2 and 5.9, respectively. In her first season with the Sparks, Erica Wheeler is scoring a career-high 13.5 points per game.

The Sparks have struggled on offense all year, as they have the lowest scoring offense in the WNBA at 72.8 points per game while shooting a lowly 40.4 percent as a team. If the Sparks were average on offense, they could be sitting four to five spots higher in the standings due to their work on the defensive end. The Sparks’ defensive rating is 98.1, which is fourth-best in the league, behind the Sun, Las Vegas Aces, and Seattle Storm.

The Sun have won both of the previous meetings between these two teams, 76-72 and 76-61. If the Sparks are going to close in on the Liberty, their defense will need to reach new heights. A win for Connecticut would push their lead over the Aces to two games with three games to play for both and would clinch a double-bye.

Game information

Los Angeles Sparks (10-18) vs. Connecticut Sun (22-6)

When: Thursday, Sept. 9 at 10:30 p.m. ET

Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA

How to watch: NBA TV, Spectrum SportsNet, NESN, TSN2

Key to the matchup: Expect a low scoring, highly competitive affair. Both teams defend very well and the game could end up having a near-playoff atmosphere as both sides will be playing with a sense of urgency.

Sparks injury report: Chiney Ogumike (questionable; right knee), Kristi Toliver (out; left hand), Jasmine Walker (out for season; right knee)

Sun injury report: Alyssa Thomas (doubtful; Achilles)