Sparks, without Liz Cambage, commence playoff quest – San Bernardino Sun



LOS ANGELES — The Sparks are at a crossroads.

They can either rally and win games without center Liz Cambage, who received a contract buyout Tuesday, or they can falter down the stretch and miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

At 12-15, the Sparks are currently sixth in the WNBA standings with less than three weeks in the regular season remaining. Their next opponent, the Phoenix Mercury, is ninth in the standings but 8-5 at home, which makes it one of the six best home teams this season.

The top eight teams will make the playoffs and Sparks interim head coach Fred Williams said earning a postseason berth continues to be the team’s guiding light.

The Sparks will play at the Mercury (12-16) at 7 p.m. Thursday on CBS Sports Network. The Mercury has been led all season by All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, drawing major consideration as a first-team All-WNBA selection. Additionally, longtime star guard Diana Taurasi, out of Don Lugo High in Chino, is averaging 17 points per game.

However, without the towering presence of a 6-foot-9 center in the middle, the Sparks’ strategy must adapt against a Phoenix squad that has won six of its past 10 games. Cambage was the team’s second-leading scorer (13.0 points) and second-leading rebounder (6.4 rebounds) and led the team in blocks (1.6 per game).

“You probably won’t see a lot of points in the paint like with Liz in there,” Williams said. “I think you’ll see more open floor with guards driving.”

Sparks forward/center Chiney Ogwumike, who is averaging 11.7 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes per game over her past four games, will undoubtedly be leaned on to record more double-doubles. Ogwumike is expected to assume Cambage’s place in the starting lineup, playing alongside her older sister, All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is averaging a team-high 18.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.

“Chiney does a great job of getting points in the paint, but our whole scheme is pretty much staying the same,” Williams said. “You have to stick with what you have and just tweak it some and that’s what we aim to do.”

Meanwhile, Sparks rookie center Olivia Nelson-Ododa will be the Sparks’ primary frontcourt player off the bench. The 6-foot-5 center is averaging 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.9 minutes per game but could easily be called upon to play between 20-25 minutes a game for the rest of the season.

The Sparks are a half-game ahead of the Mercury in the standings, so a win would begin to cement their playoff chances.

However, a Sparks loss could have them teetering toward chaos. It is possible they could begin the day as the sixth seed and end the day as the ninth seed, leaving them on the outside looking in at the playoffs, with eight games to go before the season ends Aug. 14.



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