The Los Angeles Sparks have found themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings much of the season. After winning both preseason games against the Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun, Los Angeles went in a downward spiral with a seven-game losing streak.
It was a brutal start for a Sparks team that’s been to the playoffs the last three years. In 2014, Los Angeles lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Mercury, who went on to win the championship. With the start to the 2015 season that they had, it looked like the Sparks wouldn’t be seeing the playoffs this year.
But in just two weeks, Los Angeles has turned it around and is currently the buzz of the WNBA, rising above the Seattle Storm and San Antonio Stars in the West rankings following a four-game winning streak.
The streak started July 31 against the Chicago Sky. The Sky were previously in second place in the East but have since dropped to third.
Two days later the Sparks picked up a close game against San Antonio in Los Angeles. The next night, the Sparks made another explosion onto the scene by dismantling the Minnesota Lynx in an 83-61 rout at Staples Center.
Additionally, Thursday’s game against the Tulsa Shock resulted in yet another blowout of 84-57. The team extended the Shock’s losing streak to eight games but kept the Sparks red hot.
So what’s changed for Los Angeles?
The return of star forward and center Candace Parker has been the biggest lift for the team. Since her return, the team has gone 4-1.
Parker announced in April that she’d miss an undetermined amount of games to get herself 100 percent healthy. Like many other players in the WNBA, Parker plays overseas in the offseason, so she commits to playing basketball all throughout the year.
Parker has played her entire career with the Sparks since being drafted in 2008. The only other time in her career that Parker took a number of games off was back in 2009 when she gave birth. She finally made her 2015 debut for LA at the end of July and has been on fire ever since.
Although the team lost their July 29 game to the Lynx, Parker’s shooting has helped propel the team back into relevance. Parker has scored an average of 19.5 points per game since returning.
Before Parker’s return, forward Nneka Ogwumike led the team in scoring. In the 35.6 minutes per game that Ogqumike sees, the 6’2” forward scores an average of 15.4 points per game and nails 84.3 percent of her free throws. Additionally, she led the team in scoring Thursday night in the rout against the Shock with 26 points.
Jantel Lavender is the only player on the team to start in every game this season. With 14.9 points per game, it’s obvious Lavender also played a key role in keeping Los Angeles afloat in the sea of its rocky season while Parker was out.
Alana Beard plays an institutional role for the team as well. In Thursday’s game against the Shock, Beard posted the second-highest number of points for the Sparks with 13.
There’s no doubt the team has a pool of talent, especially since Parker is back; however, even before her return, the Sparks were able to upset teams such as the Phoenix Mercury before the All-Star break. The team has simply continued their great play since the veteran star returned.
The Sparks look to keep this streak alive this Sunday when they face the Lynx once again, this time in Minnesota. This season, the team is 1-2 against the West leaders.