Numbers Lie: Los Angeles Sparks vs. San Antonio Stars
Los Angeles of late is not the Los Angeles that Sparks fans are accustomed to seeing. Disjointed is a bit of an understatement when trying to describe the usually very in-sync offense of Head Coach Carol Ross’ team. Ross emphasizes the fast breaking, quick shooting transition offense. When the Sparks are at their best responsibilities are spread out and everyone is doing their job, pulling their expected share of the weight.
That offense is typically ignited by quick moving, 3-point draining Kristi Toliver, lead by playmaker and stats headliner Candace Parker, and polished off by clean up woman Nneka Ogwumike. Jantel Lavendar is a reliable and consistent post-player and veteran Alana Beard often provides some much-needed wisdom and calm to go along with her stellar defense.
In at least three of the major stats categories, rebounds, offensive rebounds and points in the paint, the Sparks dominated the Stars and were only one shy of tying San Antonio in assists. Los Angeles had three players in double figures (pts), with guard Lindsey Harding nearing a double double. Ending the game with 12 points and nine assists Harding was also perfect from the line. In fact, closing out the third quarter the Los Angeles Sparks were actually dominating in almost all of the major categories and were down by nearly 20 points.
Sure, Toliver was missing and we have yet to see Candice Wiggins and yes, they did just play to back-to-back road games arriving on the same day as the game with no time for shoot-around before hand. That still isn’t enough to account for this more than 20-point loss to a team they beat by 21 less than a month ago. The first game the Sparks lost without Tolliver was a close one, one that, in theory, Tolliver would’ve given them the edge to tip her team over into the win category.
However, after these last few losses you start wonder if all of those depressing near misses in previous post-seasons are signs of something deeper and not just tough luck for Ross’ Los Angeles Sparks. On paper, the Sparks should be dominating just about every team they’ve met so far this season. As mentioned before, the veteran squad has all of the tools and personnel to run an efficient ship and experience a lot smoother sailing than a 3-6 win-loss record and last place standing in the Western conference and second to last place in the league.
The problem, at least for the fans, is that no one seems to know what the problem is. Some are quick to point fingers at Coach Ross and demand an immediate replacement, the name Corey Gaines was even suggested. When you have a squad of veterans who fill stat sheets night after night, blaming the head coach is the easiest thing to do.
Let’s not forget that Coach Ross rebuilt a losing franchise with the help of a number 1 draft pick in 2012 and took the squad to the playoffs twice already. Also a quick reminder that Coach Gaines was fired from his own team in the middle of last season for not producing results and living up to the very high expectations that came along with drafting Baylor phenom, Brittney Griner. You can call it luck or even a coincidence, however, there’s no denying that after Gaines was ousted his former team, the Phoenix Mercury, saw an immediate improvement on their season in the form of stability, consistency and increased focus and aggressiveness.
Others have blamed Toliver’s absence and questioned her dedication to her U.S. team with reports she’s going back and forth to Russia. Many have in some way begun to question the off-season changes like letting go of 3-point shooter Jenna O’Hea who also provided energetic defense or signing Candice Wiggins who isn’t able to produce for the team yet due to an injury.
Still, other fans are encouraging further roster changes, citing the need to get CP3 the help she deserves and a couple have even offered to coach the team themselves, worried that Parker will be leaving Los Angeles if she doesn’t get a ring this year. Sure Candace does a whole lot of work out there on the floor every night, but what the stats don’t show is that the best part of watching an L.A. Sparks game is watching the way the whole team works together to dominate their opponents. Parker is the star, but this is definitely an ensemble cast.
When this Los Angeles team is in sync they move fluidly, in unison, accurately predicting their teammates’ moves. The flash comes from the teamwork. When Ogwumike comes flying in toward the basket, seemingly out of nowhere for an acrobatic put-back or when a triple-teamed Parker kicks the ball back out to an open Alana Beard who chooses the Kristi Toliver assisted 3-pointer over her own two is when you see the magic of the Los Angeles Sparks.
That magic is what we’ve been missing lately. Everybody seems to know exactly where to get it and no real clue at the same time. The Los Angeles Sparks we’ve seen as of late are not even close to the Los Angeles Sparks that keep eyes glued to TV or computer screens watching live access games or folks coming through the doors despite broken promises of bringing home a championship.
Stat sheets can tell you a lot. What the numbers don’t tell you is just how disappointing it is to watch the Sparks fall to opponents they shouldn’t lose to when you know how bad everyone wants it. The numbers don’t show the amount of effort, the focus, determination or heart. At the same time those very important and necessary qualities aren’t enough to add slashes to a team’s win column.
The numbers (aside from the win-loss record) say the Los Angeles Sparks aren’t doing that bad 9 games into the season. However we can conclude that numbers lie. So what’s the truth? What’s going on with the Los Angeles Sparks?