The Sparks were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Thursday's loss against the Connecticut Sun. This is the second year in a row the team has missed the playoffs, only the sixth time they've done so in the team's 26-year history, and the first time they've missed back-to-back postseasons since 1997-98.
"It was a very tough season," Brittney Sykes said after Thursday night's loss. "We still got one more game right, but we dealt with so much adversity on and off the court, and that's not an excuse, but it's reality."
Reality indeed. With Derek Fisher's exit, Liz Cambage's contract divorce, and the latest Chennedy Carter coach's decision DNP's, it's been just as much drama on the court as off for the Sparks. Now the team's playoff aspirations are over, but they still have a final game on Sunday against the Dallas Wings, so what can Sparks fans look forward to in this final game?
Well, for starters, I think it's time to play the younger players. With the team only having nine players available Thursday, you don't even have the depth for massive changes. Still, you can give Olivia Nelson-Ododa some more time and give Kianna Smith 15-20 minutes instead of her usual 8 minutes of play. Interim head coach Fred Williams seems to agree with this sentiment.
"You'll pretty much see the same starting lineup out there. Probably play a lot more of the younger players, and I know Nneka (Ogwumike) tweaked her ankle a little bit towards the end of the game, so I don't know how much I have of her, but for the younger group, I'll make sure they get out there and get some more experience of being in the game."
The possibility of Nneka Ogwumike missing this game is not a shock, but I, for one, hope she at least gets an acknowledgment that it could be her last game as an LA Spark. She is an unrestricted free agent next season, and the team has a lot of decisions to make. They have to find a new coach/general manager, which means a new direction/vision, and they have seven roster spots to fill, and given how this season went, I doubt they will be running it back. The 2023 Sparks will likely be drastically different from the 2022 version.
Despite Sunday's game being "meaningless" the players and the interim head coach do not feel that way when approaching the season's final game against Dallas.
"We'll still approach it as another game," Williams said postgame. "Watch film, have practice, tomorrow we have off, come back Sunday at Southen Cal, have practice there, and then get prepared for a game on Sunday afternoon."
Sykes shared similar sentiments. "We're gonna approach every game how we've been approaching it. We read the defense, we play our offense; you know what I mean? We're just gonna keep doing what we did. Of course, we're gonna try to go out with a win. The fans deserve it, hell, we deserve it, y’all (the media) deserve it. We've all been watching the same thing all season, so we all went through this together. Y'all might not have been on the floor, but we all watched it. We all going through it."
We all get to go through it one more time on Sunday when the Sparks take on the Wings at Crypto.com Arena for the final time this year. With so many questions about the future up in the air it will be fascinating to see how everything transpires on Sunday.