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Sparks coming together under interim coach Williams

Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes and Liz Cambage confer on court. Steph Chambers/Getty Images photo.
Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes and Liz Cambage confer on court. Steph Chambers/Getty Images photo.

In the wake of a 78-75 win over the Phoenix Mercury Monday, the Los Angeles Sparks have won five out of their last seven games. Now at 10-11 on the season, they are finally trending in the right direction under the guidance of interim head coach Fred Williams.

“Each game is a step in the right direction,” veteran forward Nneka Ogwumike said, adding that the coaching changes have helped the team and players find their identity individually and collectively.

“The coaching staff lets us understand what we’re great at.”

Getting the ball inside

One of the reasons for the Sparks’ turnaround is they have been playing to their strengths. With Ogwumike and 6-9 Liz Cambage in the front court, they have a size advantage in the paint most every night. Against the Mercury, the duo combined for 42 points and 16 rebounds. LA’s guards have also been doing a good job getting the ball inside.

Williams, who was head coach of the Dallas Wings in 2018 when Cambage returned to the league, took over for the Sparks a month ago after head coach Derek Fisher was fired. Cambage, who struggled the first part of the season, as found her game once again with her former coach, and has scored in double figures the last four outings. Williams has said he holds Cambage accountable, and is hard on her because he knows her potential.

Ogwumike a former league MVP, has been playing at a high level this year, averaging 18.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. As a result, the 11-year vet is creeping up the MVP rankings.

Communication and defense

The communication between the LA’s players and coaches has improved, both parties say.

“We have a coaching staff that really lets us understand you know, what we are great at,” Ogwumike said. “We’re playing against great teams, but we’re a great team too. So respecting that and each other and having that competence when we’re out there. I think is really contributing to the cohesiveness that were feeling and that was seen.”

The defense has been another reason why the Sparks have played well. Last season they were one of the better teams in the WNBA in defense, but they have truly found their defensive identity over the last few games. Reserve guard Lexie Brown has been drawing some top defensive assignments lately, and has stepped up to the challenge.

“I’m one of the most well-conditioned players in this league,” Brown said. “So you know, if someone gives me defensive assignments to wear someone down, I’m going to take that and do that. I know I got my help-side behind me. We’re doing a much better job communicating on the back end and getting hit by screen, and switches, so it’s definitely a team effort.”

Brown, who signed as a free agent prior to the season, is locking down on defense, as well as shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. Her consistency has been crucial for the team, as guards Jordin Canada, Brittney Sykes and Chennedy Carter have missed games due to injuries and illnesses.

Williams has LA playing cohesively as a unit by changing the team’s mindset.

“You know I gave them some goals that we want to have, and that’s one of the goals is to be a top three,” Williams said. “When it’s all said and done, if you keep moving up the ladder like that, you know good things happen for us W’s are been in close games. I would say the other is just attention to detail, you know watching film watch opponents but mainly just watch us what we’re doing but we can do well.”

Rest of the way

It is important that the Sparks continue to feed Ogwumike and Cambage in the post, and play great defense. If they can do that, as well as get healthier, they can rise from their current tie at sixth place in the standings.

LA hosts the third-place Seattle Storm Thursday, in the last game for both teams before the All-Star break.

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