There was plenty that could have kept the Los Angeles Sparks from reaching the postseason this year. Instead, they pressed on and now believe they're a contender for the franchise's fourth WNBA title.
The surging, third-seeded Sparks begin that quest looking to continue their home dominance Sunday against the defending champion Seattle Storm in the second round of the WNBA playoffs.
With new coach Derek Fisher in charge, Los Angeles had to deal with an early-season injury to star Candace Parker (11.2 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game), a 10-game suspension to guard Riquna Williams (12.3 ppg) and a 7-10 road mark. However, the Sparks were able to shun all the adversity by ending the regular-season on 14-game home winning streak, a 7-2 overall run to earn the No. 3 seed with a 22-12 record which also came with a bye into the second round.
"Collectively, I think we've done a really great job of holding this thing together," said Fisher, the ninth coach in league history to win at least 20 games in his first season. "We're healthy at the right time. We're playing really good basketball, particularly here in L.A. I think we legitimately have a chance to contend for a championship."
The Sparks should feel confident they can carry their strong regular-season finish into the playoffs. Earning a home game certainly helps, considering L.A. was 15-2 at home during the regular season and has not lost at Staples Center since June 18.
Two of those home victories came against No. 6 seed Seattle, which is still alive to defend its 2018 WNBA title while playing the entire season minus injured superstars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. Jordin Canada, Bird's replacement at the point guard spot, scored a career-high 26 points and Jewell Loyd added 22 as the Storm shot 47 percent during an 84-74 home win over seventh-seeded Minnesota in Wednesday's first-round matchup.
"We want to leave everything on the floor and come into the locker room knowing that you gave it everything," Loyd, who averaged 12.3 points during the regular season, posted on their official Twitter feed. "Be confident in who you are, and be confident in your teammates. When your number is called upon, do what you do."
Loyd and regular-season leading scorer Natasha Howard, who was held to just two points in the first round against Minnesota, each scored 13 as the Storm shot 34.8 percent during a 102-68 loss at Los Angeles on Sept. 5. Parker scored 20 points with nine rebounds and Nneka Ogwumike (16.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) added 14 while also pulling down 10 boards for the Sparks, who shot 54.7 percent during that contest.
Parker had 21 points and Ogwumike posted 13 with 10 boards in an 83-75 home win over Seattle on Aug. 4.
Loyd and Howard combined for 43 points as the Storm beat L.A. 84-62 on June 21 in the teams' first matchup of the season and the only 2019 meeting between the clubs in Seattle.