Throughout the season, the Sparks continued to emphasize the importance of the July home stand. If they could get through the road-heavy May schedule, a reward was waiting for them.
Although this seven-game home stretch began with back-to-back wins, the Sparks have dropped three games in a row and now sit 10-14 in the standings, making them the ninth seed, one spot out of the playoff picture. With only twelve games left, every game counts, and protecting home court is something the Sparks value.
“We need to protect home court.” Brittney Sykes said. “We are at an advantage right now cause teams have to come to us.”
Advantage and LA Sparks are words you hardly see together. Over the month of July, the team has constantly dealt with injuries and health and safety protocols. The Sparks played with just three guards against Phoenix and Seattle; against the Sky, the team was down to just eight players due to Kristi Toliver suffering a leg strain mid-game. So talking about injuries may seem like a cop-out, but it’s a factor that needs to be discussed to contextualize their recent struggles. It’s hard to win when key players like Nneka Ogwumike, Liz Cambage, and Brittney Sykes miss time.
One aspect that interim head coach Fred Williams is in full control of is the lineup. With so few players available, it’s even more important to optimize the rotations.
Since taking over, Fred Williams’ most-used starting lineup is Nneka Ogwumike, Katie Lou Samuelson, Liz Cambage, Kristi Toliver, and Lexie Brown. Now, with injuries and players out due to health and safety protocols, it’s hard to get the best lineup out. With who is available, I think the starting five should be; Nneka, Chiney, Katie Lou, Lexie, and Jordin. Chiney is replacing Cambage, who is out due to health and safety protocols, and I think inserting Jordin Canada over Toliver or Sykes is the right move. She’s fast, young, and leads the team in assists with 5.7 per game. Sykes and Jordin are only separated by two minutes of playing time, so both are needed, but with every player available being so important, I think you have to put the best five to start, and Jordin should run the point from the jump.
The good news for the Sparks is these next two home games are winnable. They are facing the 5-21 Indiana Fever on Tuesday and the Atlanta Dream on Thursday. However, being winnable doesn’t mean easy. One of the five games the Fever has won was against the Sparks, and the Dream has been a surprisingly good team all season long. Two victories would improve the team’s record to 12-14, likely place them back in the top eight, and give them a winning record in this homestand. The key to winning these games will come down to optimizing the starting lineup, getting Toliver and Liz Cambage back, and winning the rebounding battle. Let’s see if the Sparks can get the job done and protect homecourt this week.