• January 19, 2022

No Parker, no Lavender, no Carson, no problem for Sparks in home opener

LOS ANGELES – With three key players still abroad, the Los Angeles Sparks triumphed in the team’s season opener Saturday with a 78-68 win over Seattle in front of 10,603 fans at Staples Center. Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was back in the building courtside watching the game with one of his daughters, as well as hip-hop icon MC Lyte.

Candace Parker, Jantel Lavender and Essence Carson were not available as they are still overseas competing in the Turkish League Finals and did not have the chance to see the 2016 WNBA Championship banner raised pregame.

The reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray and newcomer to the Sparks, Odyssey Sims, picked up the slack to help the Sparks overcome poor shooting in the first half and failure to capitalize on Seattle’s numerous turnovers.

“I think our team thrives in challenging situations and obstacles when you see not so many people coming back and so many new faces,” said Ogwumike postgame. “We do not see it as a setback, we see it as our responsibility and opportunity. I think that is the attitude everyone has adapted so far and I think it is very important for us to stay together and that will never change.”

Seattle got off to a promising start, leading the Sparks after the first quarter, 21-20. However, the Sparks recovered in the second period to outscore their opponent 18-16, enabling the home team to go into halftime with a slim 38-37 lead.

Seattle committed 15 turnovers in the first half compared to 7 for Los Angeles. However, the Sparks only shot 39.0 percent from the field in the first half in comparison to 59.3 percent for the Storm. At the break, the Storm’s Jewell Loyd led all scorers with 18. Ogwumike had 15 while Sims had 12.

Sparks new additions, Tiffany Jackson-Jones and rookie Sydney Wiese, scored the majority of their points in the last two periods. Sims started the third quarter with a driving layup to keep her team’s momentum going. The Sparks outscored the Storm 16-12 in the third period and 24-19 in the last 10 minutes. A driving layup from Jackson-Jones gave the Sparks their first double-digit lead of the game at 8:58 in the fourth quarter. She scored six of her eight points in the second half.

“I think in the first half I had a lot of jitters,” Jackson-Jones said. “But in the second half I think I calmed down and settled in. It was a fun game.”

For Sims, the win was important, but the overall focus is for her teammates to improve each day in a supportive environment.

“We’re just getting better every day and focusing on each other and making each other better,” Sims said.

She came to Los Angeles with a reputation for great defense while being a credible scoring threat. However, with the Sparks, she stressed that her job is to be a Jill-of-all-trades, being flexible enough to fill any role.

“I’m doing whatever coach needs, defense, scoring, whatever he needs,” Sims said. “I’m not trying to do too much, I don’t have a specific role….I’m happy to be here and I’m looking forward to a fun and exciting season.”

Head coach Brian Agler was happy with what he saw in Sims in Saturday’s game.

“Well, she didn’t practice the last three days so I told her yesterday, if you play, you’re going to play big minutes but you’re not going to start so just be ready,” said Agler. “We started the way we did and she started the second half, so we like what she does, she gives us some things we haven’t had in the past, somebody that can really get in the lane deep. After that, it’s either the ability to finish or make good decisions. She made some good decisions. We strive for perfection, we don’t always get it but that’s what we try to strive for.”

He also praised the leadership abilities of Ogwumike.

“I know leadership is something you guys can’t see because it’s behind the scenes,” said Agler when discussing all the “little things” Ogwumike does to lead by example.

“Nneka’s effort out on the floor was unbelievable and she sets the tone in how hard we are going to play.”

Ogwumike led the Sparks with 23 points. Sims added 20 points plus four rebounds and six assists. Gray contributed 14 points plus eight assists. Jackson Jones had eight points plus eight rebounds.

Loyd paced the Storm with a game-high 25 points plus four assists and four rebounds. Ramu Tokashiki and Crystal Langhorne added 14 and 13 points, respectively.

Seattle was without starters Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, both recovering from injuries.

The Storm have a quick turnaround and head home to host Indiana Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. PT.  The game will be streamed on League Pass and televised locally on Q13/Joe TV.

The Sparks get to rest and practice this week as their next game is not until Friday when they host the Washington Mystics at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be streamed on League Pass and broadcasted locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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