LOS ANGELES — Tuesday night’s home opener started with a buzz and energy that’s been missing from Sparks games in recent years. The stands were packed with 4,000-plus fans, stars like Leslie Jones, Magic Johnson, and Lisa Leslie came out to support, and despite the 2-2 record, there was relief that the team was home and would be able to start the year off right at Crypto.com Arena.
️ ️ ️ pic.twitter.com/CFo5gMbvTg— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) May 18, 2022
For the first few minutes, that optimism that comes with a home opener was rewarded. The Sparks started with a 12-4 lead and looked like the best version of themselves, while the Minnesota Lynx looked like the winless team they were. However, the Lynx maintained composure and ended the first quarter up 25-19. After that, it was all Lynx. They dominated the glass, had three players score 20-plus points and had the composure and execution needed to win a close game on the road, coming out victorious, 87-84.
No rebounds, no rings
Pat Riley famously said, “no rebounds, no rings,” and while those words were uttered nearly 40 years ago, they still ring true. If you don’t dominate the glass, the other team gets more opportunities, ends your possessions, and will likely beat you. So when you lose by three points but are outrebounded 40-26, it’s clear that you have to rebound better if you want to win games. Nneka Ogumike addressed the rebounding woes post-game.
“As far as rebounding, like, rebounding is a mentality,” she said. “I didn’t do that well today either, you know? You just have to want it, and we have people that do but you gotta want it more than who you’re going against.”
It was clear the Lynx wanted it more, especially Sylvia Fowles, who ended the game with 12 boards.
The bright side
The Sparks started four different starting lineups through their first four games. The four constants were N. Ogwumike, Liz Cambage, Brittney Sykes, and Jordin Canada, with the fifth player changing each game. That changed on Tuesday when they gave Lexie Brown her second straight start. She rewarded the team by being sensational on the court. Her third-quarter 3-pointers gave the Sparks life when they struggled to stay in the game. She ended the night shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Sparks may have lost the game, but maybe they’ve found their starting lineup.
Another bright spot was Katie Lou Samuelson. She just won the Spanish league championship on Thursday, arrived in the States on Saturday, and played the most minutes of any player coming off the bench on Tuesday. She went 3-of-5 from three and helped give Los Angeles a spark off the bench.
On the road again
Being back home was great, but it’s back on the road for the Sparks. Next up, they play the 2-3 Storm on Friday. On Monday, they play the Las Vegas Aces in Liz Cambage’s first game against her former team. There will be a lot of attention on how Cambage performs and how the crowd will react to her return to Vegas. But the most important thing is not narratives but wins. The season is still very young but getting above .500 and establishing yourself as a bonafide good team is what’s important right now. At 2-3, the Sparks have shown a lot of promise and appear to be a team with the talent and chemistry to do great things in the W this year. However, talent and potential are just buzzwords if they don’t produce tangible results. Let’s see if those results start coming in on Friday.