The Los Angeles Sparks will look to go 3-1 in their four-game road trip as they close it out against the Phoenix Mercury on Friday evening.
Los Angeles has played on the road for the past week and will conclude this road trip in Phoenix. The Sparks have had some success so far on this trip, having beaten the New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx.
Sparks finding groove on the road
The Sparks are coming off a win over their rival in the Minnesota Lynx behind a huge fourth quarter performance by Chelsea Gray. Gray scored 21 points on 8-12 shots from the field to go along with four assists in the game.
Of her 21 points in the game, Gray scored eight of them in the fourth quarter. She drained a jumper with 2:19 left in the game to help the Sparks pull away from Minnesota as they were up 83-78.
With 8.5 seconds remaining, Gray’s jump shot gave the Sparks the edge to close the game out. Riquna Williams made her free throws to seal the game in the end.
Los Angeles heads into this match-up with Phoenix on a high but knows that they have to keep improving on offense and not start games off slowly.
It is a goal for the Sparks to have a good handle on themselves at the end of June.
“I’m hopeful that by the end of the month we’ll start to have a good gage at what kind of team we are offensively and defensively,” Sparks’ head coach Derek Fisher said.
The Sparks and Mercury meet for the first time this season on Friday.
However, they dueled in the Sparks’ preseason opener, which Los Angeles lost 82-75. This game had other consequences, though, as Candace Parker left this game early with a hamstring injury.
Ashley Walker led the Sparks in scoring, coming off the bench with 16 points. Walker had a great performance for Los Angeles, as she went 5-8 from the field and was able to lock down DeWanna Bonner with her individual defensive pressure.
The starters for the Sparks combined for 31 points with Nneka Ogwumike leading the way with 12.
It was a pretty even game between the two teams until the fourth quarter. There, the Mercury outscored the Sparks 21-12 and held LA to an 18.2 field goal percentage in the quarter.
Overall, Los Angeles shot 40.7 percent from the field in the game.
The Phoenix Mercury have had a rough start to the season as a whole. The Mercury are currently 2-3 on the season and went 1-2 on their recent road trip. Phoenix fell to the Chicago Sky with an 82-75 result despite a great 28-point performance by Bonner.
The Mercury have been missing some players to start the season. Diana Taurasi has not seen action on the court yet as she is recovering from her back surgery. Camille Little has also been inactive due to an ankle injury.
To make up for the missing players from the roster, Bonner and Brittney Griner have held it down for the Mercury. They average a combined 40.6 points per game.
Phoenix has held opponents to 77.6 points per game and 42 percent from the field this season.
As Los Angeles closes out their road trip, Phoenix will give them a challenge.
Sparks’ keys to victory
The Sparks will need to come out in an offensive rhythm, contain Bonner, and be consistent on defense.
Bonner has had her way with teams so far this season as she is averaging 24.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and four assists. With a game-plan in containing her offensive presence, this will force other players to make contested shots. Keeping Bonner from getting hot will allow the Sparks to not have to worry about her getting a big offensive game.
It is good that Walker is back on the Sparks because her defensive pressure on Bonner in the preseason game helped out on some possessions. In that game, Bonner shot 66.7 percent from the field as she finished with 20 points.
The Sparks’ offense has been a constant conversation on shooting and running set offensive schemes. At times, they go into one on one isolation that teams can attack. On the other hand, LA passes the ball well and can create good ball movement, which leads to quality shots.
Los Angeles needs to be able to start games off on a good note offensively so that it will not haunt them later on.
The final key for the Sparks in this game is to be consistent on the defensive end. They are able to get good defensive stops in transition but they need to sustain their pressure throughout the game.
The Sparks are able to hunker down on defense more so in the second half or just the fourth quarter at times. Starting the game with a defensive mindset will set the tone for the Sparks against a team in the Mercury that shoots a 43.8 percent from the field.
Candace Parker (hamstring) and Alana Beard (leg) are progressing in their recovery as they participated in practice this week with Los Angeles. There is not a target date for their returns and are both day-to-day.
After practice on Tuesday, however, coach Fisher stated that they would return soon.
Los Angeles takes on the Phoenix Mercury at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.