It was over as it began. Even Derek Fisher could almost tell from the opening tip.
Before the head coach could even put on his facemask, the Sparks were already 17 behind the Connecticut Sun in the first quarter on Thursday, and things quickly spiraled out of control in a 75-57 loss at Staples Center.
With a chance to make amends in a tight playoff race, the Sparks turned the ball more than 20 times, allowed the Sun (23-6) to take 29 free throws compared to their 11 and lost their sixth game in a row.
“We couldn’t get out of our way,” Fisher said.
The coach thought the pressure of the playoff chase was getting on his players, many of whom have not played regular minutes in the WNBA. The Sparks are one of four teams competing for two finals in the playoffs, but the contenders have suffered 17 consecutive losses.
LA (10-19) fell a full game behind eighth-place New York Liberty with Thursday’s loss, in which Nneka Ogwumike had 12 points and seven rebounds to lead the team. The Dallas Wings (12-17) are in seventh place, while the Washington Mystics (10-18) are in ninth place.
“It doesn’t come down to one game, it doesn’t come down to one game,” Ogwumike said.
“It’s the investment of time and respect for the game and just being prepared that way and I think as a collective we have a way of doing that.”
Jonquel Jones, The Sun’s MVP candidate, dominated with 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Connecticut (23-6) extended its winning streak to 11. Jones scored 10 points during Connecticut’s 17-0 run to start the game and grabbed as many rebounds in the first three quarters (13) as the entire Sparks team during that time.
A match-up with the leading Sun was guaranteed to be physical, underscoring how much the Sparks needed Chiney Ogwumike. The forward who had missed the previous three games with right knee pain is bringing much-needed toughness, Fisher acknowledged before the match.
“She’s not shy about telling you she’s bigger than her sister and she’s playing bigger,” Fisher said with a smile. “You miss that.”
With the Sparks at 17, six-foot Chiney Ogwumike came into play and immediately lifted the team. The forward found her 6-2 older sister Nneka for a layup, scored on another scoreless shot and grabbed a steal that pushed Erica Wheeler to a quick break opportunity.
But Chiney Ogwumike still suffered from her injury, playing only six minutes and then had to leave in the second quarter after a nasty fall and sent her to the dressing room. The former No. 1 draft pick finished with two points, an assist and a steal.
Highlights from the Sparks’ 75-57 loss to the Connecticut Sun at the Staples Center on Thursday.