LOS ANGELES — The Sparks will welcome Candace Parker back to Los Angeles for the second time this season when they host the Chicago Sky at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.
Parker, a two-time league MVP and 2016 WNBA Champion with the Sparks, is coming off arguably her best scoring performance of the season Tuesday against the Atlanta Dream. Parker had 31 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in Chicago’s 90-75 win in their first game after the All-Star break.
At 17-6, Chicago, the defending 2021 WNBA champion, is currently the top team in the league standings with a month left in the regular season.
The Sparks are 10-13 overall but are 1-1 against Chicago this season. On May 6, the Sparks won 98-91 on the road in overtime, powered by Jordin Canada’s 21 points and eight assists. On June 23, the Sparks lost 82-59 at home, in Parker’s first game back inside the arena she still calls “Staples Center.”
Meanwhile, Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who leads the team in scoring (18.4) and rebounding (7.1), did not play in the Sparks’ 94-81 loss to the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, due to a non-COVID-related illness.
However, Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams expects his team captain, who practiced Wednesday, to be back in the starting lineup Thursday.
“Absolutely,” Williams said. “I expect her to play. Right now, it’s a green light for her to go, so we’re going to put her right out there.”
Williams is expecting Ogwumike versus Parker to be a great matchup.
“They know each other so well … it’s a great matchup to watch because both of them can shoot the three, they can drive, both double-double type players and both are All-Stars,” Williams continued. “It’s going to be a great game to see.”
He believes that points in the paint from Ogwumike and 6-foot-9 center Liz Cambage and matching Chicago’s bench production will be some of the keys to victory.
Sparks veteran guard Kristi Toliver, who alongside Ogwumike and Parker helped the Sparks win their most recent WNBA championship in 2016, said she will never forget winning her first league title.
“What I remember about that year specifically is the amount of sacrifice that everybody took. The accountability that everybody had, the communication, the dedication to the film sessions, on court translating all those things,” Toliver shared. “It was a special year, it was a special group and it’s nothing like winning your first championship.”
Toliver, who is coming off a season-high 12 points against the Mystics, is averaging 6.5 points per game this season. However, the two-time WNBA champion is currently leading the Sparks by shooting 48% from three-point range.
“I also encourage (Toliver) to put the ball up and shoot a lot more,” Williams said. “Shoot it with confidence and speed.”
Toliver said she’s currently working on clearing her headspace mentally with meditation to focus on simply playing basketball. She said there’s been a lot going on off the court but she still loves playing basketball and is committed to helping the Sparks win.
Chicago at Sparks
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
How to watch: Spectrum SportsNet