Mon, 08 Aug 2022

Sparks, Liberty open key back-to-back as playoff race tightens

Field Level Media
02 Aug 2022, 07:40 GMT+10

The Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty will begin a crucial back-to-back when they square off Tuesday night in New York.

The two clubs also play Wednesday in New York and are among four teams separated by one game at the bottom of the playoff picture.

Los Angeles (12-17) currently holds the eighth position -- the final postseason spot -- and New York (11-18) is one game behind the Sparks. The Atlanta Dream (12-18) and Minnesota Lynx (12-19) are also part of the equation.

The Liberty have won two of their past three games and are hoping to make a late-season dash behind Sabrina Ionescu, who posted a career-best 16 assists in Sunday's easy 89-69 win over the Phoenix Mercury.

The assists tied for second-most in WNBA single-game history behind Chicago Sky star Courtney Vandersloot, who had 18 against the Indiana Fever late in the 2020 regular season. Ionescu also had 10 points and eight rebounds during the 20-point win that represents New York's largest of the season.

"I think she's a really talented basketball player," Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said of Ionescu. "I just want her to take what the defense gives us. She's a fantastic passer. It really is good for such a young player, just her court vision."

Ionescu leads New York in scoring (16.9 points per game) and assists (6.5). Natasha Howard averages 15.4 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds. Ionescu grabs 7.1 boards per game.

The 6-foot-2 Howard has posted four straight double-doubles, including 23 points and a season-high 12 rebounds against Phoenix.

Los Angeles has dropped three consecutive games and six of its last eight after losing 84-77 to the Lynx on Sunday. The Sparks trailed by 20 in the fourth quarter before whittling away at the margin.

Nneka Ogwumike, who has team-best averages of 18.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, had 23 points against Minnesota in what was a disappointing home performance prior to the start of a four-game road trip.

Brittney Sykes fueled the comeback attempt by scoring 13 of her 15 points in the final stanza.

"We're all connected at this point with energy so I can't be a vampire and I'll own that," Sykes said afterward. "It took me to the fourth quarter to get (untracked). I can't do that anymore."

Los Angeles registered an 84-74 home win over New York on July 3 behind Ogwumike's 22 points. Ionecsu had 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists but made just 5 of 18 shots and committed six turnovers.

--Field Level Media

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