LOS ANGELES — After winning the 500th game in franchise history 97-89 against Dallas on Friday, the Sparks are turning the page to their oldest rivals.
The Sparks (8-11) will host the New York Liberty (8-11) , one of the WNBA’s original eight teams, at 3 p.m. Sunday at Crypto.com Arena. Both teams are in the mix for the final three playoff spots and Sunday’s matchup is the first of three games between them this season.
The Liberty game will be the first of a seven-game homestand for the Sparks through July 21, after they played 12 of their first 19 games on the road.
Meanwhile, with Sparks guard Brittney Sykes out due to health and safety protocols, guards Kristi Toliver and Lexie Brown played more minutes against the Wings on Friday. Toliver had a season-high 11 points and seven assists in 26 minutes. Brown, who played a team-high 33 minutes, had 13 points, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, which helped space and stretch the floor.
Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams also worked point guard Jordin Canada back into the lineup with four points, two assists and two steals in 13 minutes, after she missed two games recently with a non-COVID-related illness.
Sparks guard Chennedy Carter, whom Williams said has also been dealing with an illness, played her most minutes since June 11 against the Dallas Wings. The Fort Worth, Texas native had five points, three rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes Friday and could be counted on for more time against the Liberty, which features All-Star starter guard Sabrina Ionescu and French national player Marine Johannes, who is averaging a career-high of nearly 12 points per game and four assists in seven games this season.
“Those minutes will pick up as we go along and play games because we have a back-to-back coming up – New York and Phoenix,” Williams said of Carter. “I don’t want to rush her to get out there so soon being a little under the weather. I thought she did a really good job (against Dallas) with the minutes she got.”
The Sparks had all five starters score at least 11 points against the Wings: Nneka Ogwumike (21), Liz Cambage (21), Katie Lou Samuelson (14), Brown (13) and Toliver (11).
“Building off this win, it’s all about focus for us,” Sparks All-Star starter forward Nneka Ogwumike said. “It’s all about cohesion and us working each game, each possession to just be better.”
However, against New York, Ogwumike and Cambage will have to contend with Liberty All-Star forward Natasha Howard, who is averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game this season.
“If you’re not talking, you’re not playing defense,” Williams said. “I just want them to communicate more. If it’s on offense or defense, just enjoy playing basketball and figure it out. They have to own what I’m giving them. I can only give them the structure and they’re doing a good job of owning it.”
Meanwhile, Williams said he’s relying on his foundational experience as a WNBA head coach, which dates to 1999 with the Utah Starzz, Atlanta Dream, Tulsa Shock and Dallas Wings, but also making sure he’s open to constructive collaboration from his players on the Sparks.
“For me, it’s the calmness of things, don’t panic,” Williams added. “The overall aspect of myself, I’m going to bring a lot of energy and a purpose and a passion to practice every day and I’m going to instill running, get them down to the floor, conditioning, just run a little bit more. And for them, I get feedback from a lot of the players, what they feel, what they think.
“Some of them, I asked them to draw up their favorite play and I put it in my playbook and some days I may run it in a game for them, and so that helps out me as a coach to learn more about them. But they also know that I’m trying to teach them and they want to be taught. The pro players at this level want to be taught all the time.”