Los Angeles Sparks: analysis

Friday night the Sparks get stomped by the Lynx. Minnesota had been inspired to perform strongly by their poor performance the week before, getting crushed by Los Angeles. With a few minutes to go, when it was obvious that LA wasn’t going to make it a game, I walked away from the TV.

Yesterday the Sparks lost to the Chicago Sky. They never lead once, but they did try a oomeback in the fourth quarter, whittling the lead down to two points. The Sky then stepped on it and left Los Angeles in the dust for the 94-82 win. The Sparks are still without a win on the road this season.

This latest road trip, and the Sparks’ inconsistent performance this year in general, are concerning fans – many of whom ask me “what’s wrong with the Sparks?” This is, in part, because the team dealt with the issues of effort and motivation earlier this month, and seemed to have a handle on it.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the team chemistry, energy or motivation, or what’s causing their wavering performances, as a team or individually. You have to actually be on the team to answer those psychological questions, and even when you are that doesn’t mean you’ll know, or know what to do about the issues.

Here’s what’s NOT wrong with the Sparks:

1. They have all the components they need

For a long time, fans have blamed the team’s woes on the lack of a point guard. They got a great one this season in Lindsey Harding, who has proven she can run the show. Candace Parker, though she plays the power forward position best, does a fine job at center (it got her two national championships at Tennessee).

Though their bench isn’t as strong, the Sparks’ starting five are heavyweights. There is no excuse for playing poorly when there are at least five athletes on the team who can score in double figures every game.

2. They have a great coach in Carol Ross

The Sparks got a fine coach in Carol Ross last year. Her ability to teach and motivate earned her WNBA coach of the year last season. She knows what she’s doing.

3. They have a wonderful support staff

The team is completely supported by a great staff, from the executives to the coaches to trainers and public relations staff. They lack for nothing.

4. The Sparks get along well off the court

Members of the Sparks genuinely like, respect and support each other. There aren’t any rivalries or rifts.

These are some issues for the Sparks, especially on the road:

1. Their defense sometimes goes AWOL

One of the reasons I walked away from Friday’s game was due to my disgust at watching the Sparks let Lynx players score easily under the basket, time and time again, like they were at the movies. It showed up in the box score, as Minnesota outrebounded their opponents, 47-28. That’s just embarrassing.

Defense is all about heart. So the question is, where does the heart of the Sparks go during these defensive lapses? Do they really want to win a championship, as they say, or is it all lip service?

2. The Sparks sometimes don’t take care of the ball

Got turnovers? Yes.

3. The Sparks let the defense of other teams take them out of their offensive rhythm

One of my biggest pet peeves in basketball is when a team won’t drive to the rack, and settles instead for outside shots. And when they can’t make those shots, it’s especially aggravating.

The Sparks have been doing that a lot lately, including the last two games. A team won’t win much that is afraid to take it to the hole.

4. Some players are inconsistent

Candace Parker has been scoring lately, but the rest of the roster goes up and down. The inconsistency of Kristi Toliver, in particular, is a concern because she is such a scoring threat. When she is having a bad game, she gets upset, which continues the downward spiral.

Championship teams must have consistent scorers every game. No exceptions.

5. Candace Parker

Some say CP needs to step up and score more, be more of a leader, or both of the above. I see her in practices and on the court being the boss with her teammates, and she is scoring, so I don’t know if I agree with this assertion. But it’s an opinion I keep running into.

Other contemplations:

1. Nneka Ogwumike is underutilized, in my opinion. Here is a player with a dynamic skill set and a natural ability for the game that doesn’t come around often. Yet I don’t see any plays run for her. I say: give the youngin’ the ball. She’ll score – and take it to the rack doing so.

2. The Sparks might be withering under pressure. The demise of the Comets meant the WNBA’s first championship team was gone forever. The next title team was the Sparks, and it seems like they’ve been trying to replicate 2001 and 2002 ever since. “Anything less than a championship” might have worked for Pat Summitt, but I don’t think it carries well in LA: the home of the spoiled and unrealistic sports fans. The Sparks would be best to focus on improving daily, if they’re not already.

There’s still a lot of season left. We will see if the Sparks can fix their issues and contend for the Western Conference title, which they should, based on their talent.