Despite adversity, Sparks have some momentum for rematch with Aces

View Original Notice ? Despite adversity, Sparks have some momentum for rematch with Aces

Las Vegas at Los Angeles, Part 2. Monday at Arena.

This rematch will feel a little different though, at least at the outset: Instead of having to face the league’s hottest team just a couple days after absorbing a coaching change, the Sparks will come in after perhaps their most impressive victory this season – a short-handed 85-77 victory in Seattle against fourth-place Storm. And they’ll meet an Aces team that has lost two consecutive games for the first time all season.

Still, there are some significant challenges – logistically speaking, especially – facing the Sparks entering their third game this season against Las Vegas, which has beaten them by a combined 45 points in their first two.

The Sparks’ commercial flight home from Seattle was canceled, so L.A.’s staffers were working overtime to book the team’s contingent on five flights back home – including one at 3:30 a.m.

Coach Fred Williams said that meant the Sparks wouldn’t have time for practice Sunday. But the Sparks won Saturday despite the fact that their Friday flight to the game also was canceled, pushing their arrival time back till midnight.

Sparks guard Brittney Sykes wasn’t inclined to dwell on the inconvenience: “Do we really wanna talk about it? I mean, when you are flying commercial you are the helms of the airline, and they decide to cancel our flight. We got here, that’s all that matters.”

But Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks All-Star and the president of the players union, said she considered it a point worth addressing.

“I gotta say though, to be real, our flight got canceled when we got to the airport and we have a staff that is literally working day and night to figure out how we can get not only where we need to get safely but also within the terms of the CBA, it’s not easy,” said Ogwumike after scoring 24 points on 12-of-18 shooting Saturday, before turning her attention to the collective bargaining agreement that deems it a violation for teams to charter planes.

“It’s not easy … we couldn’t go to shootaround, our coach understood that we needed more rest. And at film today we found out that our flight (Sunday) got canceled, so we’re taking five different flights back home; my flight’s at 6 a.m., and we play Vegas on Monday.”

Noted Sykes: “I think some of us leave at 3:30 a.m. – after a game.”

“So I guess,” Ogwumike noted, “I get to sleep in.”

But the Sparks managed to muster the energy to put up a winning fight against the Storm – and to do it without guards Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter, who both came down with non-COVID illnesses before the game.

Then the Sparks’ already-depleted roster took another shot when Chiney Ogwumike took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Ezi Magbegor that resulted, Williams said, in a big knot and a little gash. Postgame, big sister Nneka said her younger sister got “a little stitched up, but she’s fine.”

Without them, the Sparks were down to eight players, and they closed with a lineup that featured not star center Liz Cambage, but rookie Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the former UConn standout who’s been making strides by the game.

L.A. outscored Seattle by eight points in Nelson-Ododa’s seven fourth-quarter minutes, when she had a pair of key rebounds and a reverse layup that pushed L.A.’s lead to 83-77 with 2:19 to play.

Her former UConn teammate Katie Lou Samuelson raved about the audacity of the slender 21-year-old center.

“I wasn’t in training camp, but she was calling me asking me questions,” said Samuelson, who matched her career high with 17 points in a career-best 39 minutes of play Saturday, the latest contribution since arriving in L.A. a few games into the season, having first helped secure a second consecutive Spanish title for Perfumerías Avenida.

“And you can see that every single game, she’s getting more and more comfortable,” Samuelson added. “The biggest thing is she’s just out there, playing like herself without any fear and that’s all you can ask from a rookie. I feel like when I was senior and she was a freshman at UConn, that’s not the Liv that I saw and got to play with — she was scared of everything, and so to see that much growth, it’s amazing to play with and be a part of because she’s really just doing her best for the team every single game.”

Next up: Becky Hammon’s first-place Aces, who should be extra focused after losses to Chicago and Washington.

“We’ll have to carry this over,” Williams said. “We don’t get much time for a practice, we have to go right into that Vegas game on Monday, but we’re gonna shoot around and compete with them.”

ACES (13-4) at SPARKS (7-10)

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Arena

TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV