Sparks drop post-Rio opener amidst playoff race

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike tries to stop Crystal Langhorne's shot Friday. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike tries to stop Crystal Langhorne’s shot Friday. Photo by Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Just a few hours after the Minnesota Lynx lost their first game after the Olympic break, the other league leader, the Los Angeles Sparks, did the same thing.

The Seattle Storm never trailed in downing the lethargic Sparks, 79-72. The losses mean Los Angeles still has the WNBA’s best record, at 21-4, with Minnesota less than a game behind, at 21-5. Seattle is also now tied to clinch the league’s final playoff spot.

Sparks coach Brian Agler said he anticipated the intensity of Friday’s game.

“We talked about this over August and it seemed to play out tonight – some of these teams, like Seattle and probably five or six others, are really fighting hard to get into the playoffs,” he said. “They’re going to play desperate and they’re going to play hungry and they’re going to be aggressive. (Seattle) played hungrier tonight than we did.”

He said the long Olympic break also took its toll on Los Angeles.

“I think we sat around for six weeks and everybody told us how good we were and I think we softened up,” Agler said. “That’s why you don’t see repeat champions. Everybody gets in the offseason and everybody tells them how good they are and then they don’t have as good of a year. That’s sort of what happened to us for six weeks.”

Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike, the game-high scorer with 28 points, said her team started out behind and tried to catch up for 40 minutes.

“I thought we weren’t ready,” she said. “We weren’t ready, so we were just scrambling and fighting the whole game.”

Ogwumike said the Sparks will have to play with extra intensity in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“I don’t think (the Olympic break) was a hindrance, but it is like a new season,” she said. “People are fighting for their playoff lives and we need to take that into account. I just think that our focus just wasn’t there.”

Los Angeles travels to Phoenix to take on the Mercury tomorrow.