With four games remaining, the Los Angeles Sparks have everything to play for. But before we preview the final games, let's look at how we got here.
Three-straight losses for LA
Los Angles started the week off with a loss to the Connecticut Sun 83-68. The loss ended a six-game winning streak for the Sparks, their longest of the season. Azurá Stevens had an efficient game, leading the team with 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting. But it wasn't enough, as Connecticut pulled away early in the second quarter and never looked back.
The matchup against Chicago was the biggest game of the season. Both teams are fighting for the final playoff spot, with Chicago entering the contest 1.5 games behind LA. Chicago took control in the third, going on a 17-6 run to end the quarter. The Sparks fought back, taking the lead after a Karlie Samuelson 3 with 34.3 seconds left in the game. Then, Kahleah Copper put the Sky on her shoulders and carried her team to victory, scoring Chicago’s final eight points, including the game-winning layup. The victory put Chicago just a half-game back of LA in the playoff standings.
On Thursday night, Los Angeles held their last regular-season home game at Crytpo.com Arena, hosting the Seattle Storm. LA’s guards were ice-cold, with Jordin Canada, Zia Cooke and Jasmine Thomas shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field. With such poor shooting, the Sparks couldn't control the game and took their second home loss of the week, falling to Seattle 72-61.
With the defeat, the Sparks are now tied with Chicago in the standings at 15-21. But with Chicago winning the season series 3-1, they own the tiebreaker and currently hold the eighth seed.
The Sparks begin their final week of action against the red-hot Washington Mystics on Sunday. Now fully healthy, Washington looked impressive beating the Minnesota Lynx and Las Vegas Aces last week. Winning on Sunday at the Galen Center at USC will be a tough challenge for the Sparks. Can LA get better production from their guards? Will they be able to contain Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Sykes and Natasha Cloud? They have to, if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
On Tuesday, the final road trip begins in coach Curt Miller's old stomping grounds in Connecticut. Holding the third-best record in the league, the 25-11 Sun have flown under the radar due to the WNBA world’s obsession with the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces. Make no mistake about it though, Connecticut is legit. Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner are a lot to handle; Nneka Ogwumike, Dearica Hamby and Stevens will have to find a way to cancel them out or, at the very least, minimize their impact on the result.
The Sparks make a final trip to the Big Apple on Thursday, where they will face the Liberty. New York has won nine of their last 10 games. With their absolutely stacked roster, beating the Liberty requires a near-perfect performance from your roster, from top to bottom. Sabrina Ionescu has been automatic from 3 and Breanna Stewart wreaks havoc on defenses. The Sparks must slow the game down, get physical and frustrate the Liberty. If New York dictates the tempo of the game, things won't end well for Los Angeles.
The final game of the 2023 campaign will be on the road against Seattle. It's all about guard play versus the Storm. The Sparks can't let Jewell Loyd go off and they will need offensive production from their guards in order to close out the season with a W.
It's going to be an uphill battle for LA to make the playoffs. They need to win out and get help from Chicago's opponents. Because three of the Sparks’ four remaining games are against teams above them in the standings, the smart money is on Chicago to take the No. 8 seed instead of Los Angeles.
There is no use crying over past games, but that's why Tuesday's home loss to Chicago was so devastating. You had a chance to pull away in a head-to-head game and failed. The Basketball Gods aren't merciful to teams that don't take care of business. Still, LA isn’t dead and buried yet. Los Angeles still has a spark of life (I know, I know, I couldn't resist) and can avoid missing the playoffs for a third season in a row.