Looking to rebound from their worst defeat of the season, the Los Angeles Sparks look to regain the inside track to the No. 3 seed for the WNBA playoffs on Thursday night when their road trip continues against the Indiana Fever.
The Sparks (18-11) currently hold the third spot by percentage points over the Las Vegas Aces, whom they face Saturday night to wrap up this three-game road swing. Before that, though, Derek Fisher's team must pick up the pieces from a humbling 95-66 loss Tuesday night to the league-leading Washington Mystics - who showed the Sparks the proper urgency that comes with fighting for a top-two spot that offers a bye into the semifinals.
Los Angeles' primary weakness, perimeter defending, was again exposed as Washington drilled nine first-half 3-pointers and put the Sparks in a 17-point halftime hole. Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray scored 12 points apiece to pace Los Angeles, which could not keep up with the 3-point onslaught and made only 3 of 21 from beyond the arc.
"Washington played better," Fisher told High Post Hoops. "… (They) played faster, harder, more assertive than we did. … They were just better from top to bottom."
The Sparks rank ninth in the 12-team league in defending 3-pointers at 35.2 percent and 10th with 7.2 treys per game allowed. If there is a bright spot moving from the nation's capital, it is the Fever enter this contest averaging a league-worst 5.6 3-pointers and are seventh in shooting from deep at 33.5 percent.
Indiana is also on the cusp of being mathematically eliminated from the playoff race. The Fever are 3 ½ games behind the Phoenix Mercury for the eighth and final postseason spot with four games left and were swept by the Mercury in the three-game season series.
Pokey Chatham's team has responded to the desperation of the situation with back-to-back wins, including a surprising 86-71 romp past Las Vegas on Tuesday night that helped out the Sparks in their bid to claim a top-four spot. Rookie Teaira McCowan had arguably her best game of the season, equaling a season high with 24 points and pulling down 17 rebounds while outplaying Aces All-Star center Liz Cambage.
"I think that I stopped thinking too much about the game and I just started playing," said McCowan, the third overall pick, told the Indianapolis Star. "I just try to be that player that gives energy. When I'm scoring, my teammates get hyped and they're scoring. I just try to keep that up as much as I can."
The 6-foot-7 McCowan has recorded back-to-back games of at least 22 points and 17 rebounds and has averaged 18.0 points and 12.2 rebounds while recording three double-doubles in her last five contests. The rookie from Mississippi State is averaging 9.1 points and 8.7 rebounds overall, with the latter good for fourth in the league.
McCowan's lone subpar effort during her five-game stretch came last Wednesday in Los Angeles, where the Sparks thumped the Fever 98-65 and held her to six points and seven boards. MVP candidate and Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike has proven a handful for Indiana and has totaled 39 points and 16 rebounds in Los Angeles' two wins this year.