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WNBA Report Card: Los Angeles Sparks in playoff hunt, Dallas Wings struggle

Huw Hopkins - @coach_huw

Friday 9 August 2019 10:24, UK

Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwunike celebrate the Sparks' win over the Mercury
Image: Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwunike celebrate the Sparks' win over the Mercury

Which WNBA teams are mining rich veins of form? Which teams are failing to meet expectations? WNBA analyst Huw Hopkins hands out his grades.

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With the All-Star break in the rear view mirror, things are getting serious in the WNBA. At the top of the standings, the Connecticut Sun have enjoyed a second long winning streak this season, while the Atlanta Dream have lost a similar number in a row and sit at the bottom of the standings.

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This week four teams receive their Report Card, for very different reasons.

Los Angeles Sparks - Grade: A

Nneka Ogwumike chases the ball down for the Los Angeles Sparks against the Phoenix Mercury
Image: Nneka Ogwumike chases the ball down for the Los Angeles Sparks against the Phoenix Mercury

Hollywood loves the spotlight, and at the start of the season the Los Angeles Sparks had plenty of it.

New head coach Derek Fisher was introduced and big trades and signings were made. Yet, somehow the team has flown under the radar, due to some big winning storylines coming out of Connecticut, Washington and Las Vegas.

Candace Parker rises up for a jumper against the Phoenix Mercury 1:36
Highlights from the Phoenix Mercury's visit to the Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks did not start out with a bang, and with no Maria Vadeeva nor Candace Parker, the team's record was not anything to write home about. But the 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike kept LA chugging along, and now the rest of the stars are aligning (and coming back from injury) the team is primed to make a big run.

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Since the All-Star break, the Sparks have played two games, and they are on a three-game winning streak. The two wins this week saw Parker return to action, scoring 16 and 22 points, respectively, grabbing seven rebounds in each, and totalling five assists, five steals and four blocks.

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The extra rest has helped her get back to form and in shape, and she has been able to contribute straight, but LA would not be in the position they are if it was not for Ogwumike.

Dallas Wings - Grade: D+

Megan Gustafson in action for the Dallas Wings
Image: Megan Gustafson has come back strong after being cut to start the season

Nobody really expected anything from the Wings this season. Forced into trading the most dominant offensive force in the league during the offseason, with one of the best point guards out and still recovering on maternity, plus a system to learn with a bunch of unfamiliar faces under a new head coach - it was always going to be tough.

It is, therefore, not a surprise to see them with a low grade this deep into the season. In fairness to Dallas, the team won a game convincingly against the New York Liberty last week and only lost to one of the best teams in the league, the Las Vegas Aces, by five points.

With that being said, the Aces were without A'ja Wilson due to injury and the player Dallas traded away, Liz Cambage, but I'm not sure if that should make the Wings feel worse or better.

Natasha Howard prepares to attack against the Dallas Wings 1:32
Highlights from the Dallas Wings' visit to the Seattle Storm in the WNBA

But this team still has a positive spirit. After being cut to start the season, the readdition of Megan Gustafson has shown what a bright future she has. It is also great to see the likes of Isabelle Harrison and Imani McGee-Stafford get a chance to show what they can do.

Skylar Diggins-Smith is working to come back from giving birth just before the season started, so the team's guard play is struggling slightly, but rookie Arike Ogunbowale is getting good reps, and the team has doubled down on the youth injection by trading for Kristine Anigwe this week from the Connecticut Sun, a talented rookie post player with great defensive skill.

Things in Dallas do not look great, but the team should be ready to spread its wings soon.

Connecticut Sun - Grade: A+

Connecticut Sun's Jonquel Jones
Image: Connecticut Sun's Jonquel Jones is the only player in the 'W' averaging a double-double

Going back to Connecticut in that Sun-Wings trade is Theresa Plaisance, a fifth-year fan favourite, who offers this team more of a win-now player.

That suits this franchise, as it is currently rocking the league's best record and has reeled off its second winning streak of the season of at least seven games. While the team has an MVP candidate on the roster, the reason it is in such a strong position is thanks to the well-balanced attack and a stifling defence - holding teams to fewer than 75 points per game.

New York Liberty v Connecticut Sun in the WNBA 1:48
Highlights from the WNBA as New York Liberty took on Connecticut Sun

Jonquel Jones is the only player in the 'W' averaging a double-double, but point guard Courtney Williams is putting on a show this season - managing a line of 28, seven rebounds and six assists earlier this week against the New York Liberty.

Everything has fallen into place for the Sun in the past few weeks, and they have to be considered a contender for the championship this season - unless they go on another five-game losing streak soon.

Chicago Sky - Grade: B

Diamond DeShields Chicago Sky
Image: Diamond DeShields won the Skills Challenge at the WNBA All-Star weekend

What a few weeks it has been for the Chicago Sky. The team boasted three players in the All-Star Game, with Allie Quigley appearing in the Three Point Challenge, and Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields competing in the Skills Challenge. Only DeShields managed to pick up the individual competition win, but the majority of the Sky's roster was there in support.

This week, the team took care of business against the Atlanta Dream, then did the same against the New York Liberty by having the best fourth quarter in WNBA history. A tough game against the Las Vegas Aces takes place in early hours of Saturday morning but the Sky are proving themselves a team to be reckoned with, and Chicago could spoil another team's playoff hopes when we get there.

Allie Quigley grabs a rebound against the New York Liberty 1:29
Highlights from the New York Liberty's visit to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA

New coach James Wade is starting to see his vision of modern basketball become a reality with the team happy to get out and run, while shooting three - at the second-best rate in the league - and getting to the basket.

They have been in close games, but Wade's play designs have been on point. It helps to have the best passing team in the league, along with some of the best shooters, but if they continue this way, the Chicago Sky could be scary in the not-too-distant future.

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