On any other day, 41 combined points from Pienette Pierson and Odyssey Sims — members of one of the WNBA’s hottest teams in the Tulsa Shock (winners of six of their last ten games) — would be enough to down whomever stood in their path. But with Candace Parker (33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nneka Ogwumike (26 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) one-upping the duo, the Los Angeles Sparks walked away from yesterday’s matchup as victors, clinching a spot (the final West spot) in the 2015 WNBA playoffs.
It seemed long ago the Sparks were on track to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season, or most known as the year Parker missed majority games due to a recurring shoulder injury. Speaking of Parker, her season was up in air as the multi-league MVP put a heavy emphasis on rest fresh off her time spent overseas, and as she sat, injuries decimated what was left of the team. But as health improved and Parker decided to return, the fortunes of the franchise immediately change; from losers of three of their last ten prior to the Parker’s season debut, the Sparks have gone on to win 11 of their last 16 games since then, one of the best records in the given timeframe. And while the Sparks continue to surge as the season nears its end, uncertainty throughout the Western Conference should make any observer of the franchise optimistic about the team’s chances of finally winning it all in the Candace Parker era.
The Minnesota Lynx have split their last 10 games 5-5 and are struggling to find the gear that made them a threat in years past — even then, are still the likely favorites to come out the West because they’ve a ton of talent that can click at any moment.
The Phoenix Mercury, despite the collection of All-Star players on hand (Griner, Bonner) will be entering the playoffs without former league MVP Diana Taurasi, who averaged 21.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds in the postseason en route to the franchise’s third championship.
The Shock are without Skylar Diggins who averaged MVP numbers (17.8 points, 5.0 assists) before an untimely and unfortunate ACL injury nine games into the season.
To put it simply, the door is wide open for this Sparks group, at least until — IF — the WNBA Finals where one of the New York Liberty, Chicago Sky, or Indiana Fever will likely await.
Now winners of three in a row and six of its last seven, if the Sparks can carry this momentum into the playoffs, the dream of reaching a pinnacle last stood upon in 2002 when Los Angeles repeated as champions, will grow to being a reality, especially if Parker’s beliefs of the team getting better find a way to come true.
“I think we can play better,” Parker said. “Everyone is feeling good but I still think that there is better basketball and our best basketball is still ahead of us.”