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Sparks update: It’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon

With two games in the books, the Los Angeles Sparks look like a squad good enough to finish Top 4 in the W.

Las Vegas Aces v Los Angeles Sparks
Lexie Brown
Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

At the start of the season, there was cautious optimism from Curt Miller about his Los Angeles Sparks. With missing the playoffs the last two seasons and the team being under .500 for both campaigns, reservations from Miller on how long this rebuild would take for the Sparks were understandable, even if frustrating, for fans of one of the most iconic franchises in the league.

Early results can be fool's gold, but after two games, the Sparks look like one of the teams to watch in 2023.

Glass half-full

Record-wise, the Sparks are 1-1, beating the Phoenix Mercury 94-71 in their home opener and losing to the defending champion Las Vegas 94-85 on Thursday.

While 1-1 is as .500 as it gets, there are reasons for optimism even in their loss against the Aces.

"While there's no moral victories, when they take a deep breath, they'll realize they accomplished some real nice things." Miller said in his postgame media availability.

With Nneka Ogwumike out for the Sparks against an Aces team that is stacked in the frontcourt with players such as A'ja Wilson and Candace Parker, it was fair to say not many gave L.A. a chance even at home. However, the Sparks didn't just put up a fight; they led most of the game, forced 20 turnovers and outscored the Aces in the paint.

It took a third-quarter surge led by guard Jackie Young to swing the game in the Aces' favor, as they took the lead and ultimately won. With the Aces looking on paper like a super team and winning their season opener against the Seattle Storm by 41 points, watching the Sparks dominate them for most of the game without their best player is promising, even if the "moral victory" doesn't show up in the standings.

What will show up in the standings is their dominant win against the Mercury. Opening night was a classic L.A. experience — a packed, energetic crowd, celebrities everywhere and an electric offense on display dominating inside arena. The Sparks had four players in double digits, including Karlie Samuelson, who was released earlier that week by the Sparks, was picked up again before the game and ended the night with 13 points off the bench.

The emergence of Lexie Brown

Before the start of the season, I mentioned Lexie Brown as being one of the X factors for this team. If she could have a standout season, it could tilt things in the Sparks' favor and maximize their potential. Well, it's early, but it looks like Brown will have a career year.

Averaging 14.5 points and shooting 55 percent from deep in her 26.5 minutes of play, Brown looks to have finally found the perfect fit with a perfect coach.

"Me personally, I feel like I'm finally having a staff and teammates that are confident in my ability. I'm not afraid of getting yanked for making a mistake which definitely makes a difference in how you go out there and play and compete." Brown said postgame after the Vegas loss.

Defense, defense, defense

From day one, Miller has stressed defense, and, early on, that's what has stood out from this team. They are tied with a league-high 26 steals in two games and are wreaking havoc on opponents. Every entry pass looks like a challenge against the Sparks as a swarm of hands tends to tip a pass, alter an angle, or force a player to take an extra step away from their desired spot to gain possession.

The Sparks have already played a few of the league's marquee players and those players struggled to shoot well against them. With Nneka absent, her sister, Chiney Ogwumike, was able to force Wilson into some tough shots and a 4-of-12 shooting night.

Diana Taurasi looked fresh and lively during her season opener against L.A., but even she went 4-of-15 from the field and had to exert a ton of energy to get the ball, much less get a shot off. These players are superstars and found ways to be effective and draw fouls, but if this is a preview of what it will be like to play against the Sparks when you are a high-usage player, it's going to be a hard day's work in L.A. for opponents.

When they get healthy ...

To win, you have to be good and lucky. Not having too many bad calls, the ball bouncing your way here and there and staying healthy. Health is a crucial aspect that teams have such little control over. There are preventative things you can do, but ultimately, you just hope every key player is ready and available. The season is young, but the injuries are already accumulating. N. Ogwumike missed a game with a non-COVID illness, Jordin Canda is questionable for the upcoming game against the Aces on the road and Azurá Stevens has yet to make her Sparks debut because of a back injury.

Closing thoughts

Yes it's early, but this team looks sharp and ahead of most people's expectations prior to the start of the season. I'd say the best days of 2023 are yet to come, and it's better to jump on the bandwagon now because the Sparks look like a sleeper team that could make noise in September.