Sparks out of playoffs for first time since 2011 after losing season finale to Dallas

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Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike (30) shoots over Indiana Fever forward Teaira McCowan.
Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, shown here in a game against Indiana on Aug. 31, had 18 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Dallas Wings on Sunday. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Needing a win to get into the postseason, the Sparks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 after an 87-84 loss at Dallas on Sunday in their season finale.

Star forward Nneka Ogwumike had 18 points and 10 rebounds, including four-for-five shooting from three-point range as the Sparks (12-20) nearly erased a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit. Guard Erica Wheeler had 22 points and seven assists, coming alive for 18 points in the second half, but couldn’t hit the final three-point shot to send the game to overtime.

“When everything was at stake, we saw it,” Ogwumike said of her team’s mental fortitude. “And we have to understand that every game is at stake and that's the maturity, that’s the focus, that’s the investment, that’s the camaraderie that that needs to be more consistent and will be.”

Everything fell into place for the Sparks leading up to Sunday's season finale. They survived two must-win games. They got two losses from the Washington Mystics (12-20), including one Sunday that knocked the 2019 WNBA champions out of the playoff race. All they needed to do was win.

“Our season, whether we win a game or not, we can’t leave it up to anybody else but us,” coach Derek Fisher said. “That’s the way we’re going to approach this offseason and find a way to come back and separate ourselves in a way that doesn’t allow anybody to take anything away from us, because we’re going to have such a tight hold on it that it’ll be clear what our intentions are.”

Instead, the combination of Washington and L.A. losses allowed the New York Liberty (12-20) to back into the postseason as the No. 8 seed. The Liberty, who will face the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury in the first round Thursday, won a tiebreaker because they had a better head-to-head record against the Mystics and Sparks.

Although the Wings (14-18) already were locked into the No. 7 seed, they fought for postseason momentum against a team playing for its playoff life. Te’a Cooper scored 17 of her team-high 24 points in the first half to ignite the Sparks but fell silent in the third quarter.

With Cooper quiet, the home team finished the third quarter on a 16-4 run and opened a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

As they’ve done during the entire injury-plagued season, the Sparks battled back. They got within three on a Wheeler three-pointer with 10.4 seconds left, but when the final play was scrambled because of a poorly executed screen, Wheeler's last attempt careened off the rim and took the Sparks into an early offseason.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.