The All-Star break is coming at the worst time for the Chicago Sky.
Winners of four of their past five games, with the only loss in that span a double-overtime defeat in Dallas, the Sky (7-13) face a formidable task when they meet the Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday at Staples Center.
After stumbling out of the gate to a 3-12 start, Chicago is building confidence, and players are starting to think there might be a chance to sneak into the playoffs. The Sky are only two games out of the postseason places heading into the Thursday game.
"We understood before the year started that people were going to be writing us off, that it was going to be a redevelopment year," guard Courtney Vandersloot told The Summitt on Friday night after Chicago's victory over the New York Liberty. "I knew there were going to be growing pains. ... All of us knew, it is how you end the season. The start wasn't what we wanted obviously. But we see this in the WNBA all the time, teams start slow and then end up in the playoffs."
Chicago followed the win over New York with a come-from-behind, 94-83 victory in Seattle against the Storm on Tuesday. Allie Quigley scored 25 points, tying a career high with six 3-pointers, as Chicago rallied from an early 20-point deficit.
Coming back against the Sparks won't be as easy. Los Angeles has the league's second-best record at 14-5 and hasn't lost at home in nine games this season.
The defending WNBA champs won't be taking the Sky lightly, though. The teams met earlier this season in Los Angeles, with the Sparks earning a 79-70 victory. And that game was played in early June, when the Sky were floundering.
Nneka Ogwumike compiled 20 points, 11 rebounds and four steals for Los Angeles. Alana Beard scored 18 points, and Candace Parker added 12 points and five rebounds for the Sparks.
Ogwumike, the reigning WNBA regular-season MVP, on Tuesday was named to the Western Conference All-Star squad as a reserve, as was teammate and budding star guard Chelsea Gray.
"It's always great to be able to represent the West," Ogwumike told NBATV. "To be part of that great company is huge."
Gray is in her first season as a starter for Los Angeles, and she leads the WNBA with a 50.9 field-goal percentage. She is averaging 15.8 points and 4.2 assists per game.
She understands her role and "just wanted to be someone my teammates can look to and know they can count on," she told WNBA.com. "And that's what I've been focusing on becoming."