With eight losses in a row, things were at an all-time low in Los Angeles for Curt Miller and company. However, a pair of wins over the Indiana Fever, along with Jordin Canada playing the best basketball of her career, has things turning around in LA.
On Tuesday, the Sparks got back in the win column, beating the Indiana Fever by the slimmest of margins, 79-78. The key reason the purple and gold won was that Canada played her best game of the year.
She had 20 points and 10 assists, including the game-winning 3-pointer. Canada is having a career year, posting 13.5 points, 1.6 steals, 3.3 rebounds and six assists per game, all of which are career highs for the six-year veteran. Such performances have put her in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award.
Jordin Canada deserves to be in the Most Improved conversation.— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) July 27, 2023
Given the struggles Los Angeles has had getting wins, beating the Fever, who are 6-18 and in 11th place in the standings, was still an achievement. Doing it again on Thursday wouldn’t easy. But the Sparks did just that, winning 81-68 to complete the two-game sweep.
Nneka Ogwumike continued her MVP-level play, leading her team with 25 points and nine rebounds. She, along with Azurá Stevens, did a great job containing leading Rookie of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston, who did not dominate in either games as she scored just 12 points on Thursday and only nine on Tuesday. Perhaps, Curt Miller can share how to slow down the budding Fever star with the rest of the league.
Always reliable Nneka.— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) July 27, 2023
25 PTS | 9 REB | 3 STL pic.twitter.com/iXkuod3sqO
This late in the season, winning is all that matters for the Sparks. However, one can argue the Sparks' most significant development of the week was the return of their shooters. On Tuesday, Lexie Brown was in the lineup; on Thursday, Karlie Samuelson came back from her knee injury.
Samuelson wasn't great during her 20 minutes, but the fact she could play for such an extended period is key for the Sparks. She is shooting 45 percent from 3. Her ability to score from deep and spread the floor had been sorely lacking in her absence.
For Brown, it's one step forward, one step back. She played Tuesday but missed Thursday's game with a non-COVID illness. It's uncertain if she'll play the upcoming games. Still, she looked good against Dallas and Minnesota last week. If she can remain available, the Sparks will, finally, have their starting five back, giving Miller something he hasn't had since the first month of the season — a full, healthy rotation.
Things won't get any easier for the Sparks. They have back-to-back home games against the New York Liberty, first on Sunday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN) and then on Tuesday at 7 p.m. PDT (NBA TV).
Following the Liberty matchups, the Sparks will head to Washington to play the Mystics on Friday at 4 p.m. PDT (ION) and next Sunday at 12 p.m. PDT (ESPN). This matchup might not be as intimidating as facing the superteam Liberty, but the Mystics are a .500 team that is tough to beat in their home arena. Coming out of these four games with at least a 2-2 record would be ideal, albeit easier said than done. But that has to be the minimum goal for the Sparks, as they are still on the outside looking in at the eighth and final playoff spot. Entering the slate of games on July 30, they are a half game behind the Chicago Sky for the eighth seed.
While this week was a step in the right direction for the Sparks, the job is not finished and there is ground to be made up. Let's see if they can build off these wins and continue to make a second-half push toward the playoffs.