Sparks-Dream matchup could be defensive battle (Jun 11, 2018)

Sparks-Dream matchup could be defensive battle (Jun 11, 2018)

Published Jun. 11, 2018 10:38 p.m. ET

After playing their worst game of the season on Thursday, the Los Angeles Sparks bounced back to beat the Chicago Sky on Sunday. The Sparks led wire to wire and held the Sky to 59 points, 18 below their season average.

Candace Parker credited the dominating win with being better prepared for Chicago after "we weren't in it" -- it being a 25-point loss to the Seattle Storm on Thursday.

During film sessions leading up to Sunday's game, "the focus was on us and what we do and how we do it. You can tell when we're aggressive in our mindset," she said, adding the blowout loss was plenty of motivation.

The Sparks will need that same kind of effort when they play the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday at Staples Center. The Dream (5-3) have won three straight and, as predicted in the preseason, are the league's most improved team.


Last year, Atlanta finished with a 12-22 record. This year, the Dream are far superior to last year's squad, especially on defense.

On Monday, Tiffany Hayes was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Her 23 points per game topped all players in the East. She ranked ninth in field-goal percentage (55.8 percent) and sixth in free-throw percentage (88.9 percent). Hayes also averaged 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

In Sunday's win over the Storm in Seattle, Hayes scored eight of her 23 points in the fourth quarter and the Dream stepped up its defense after falling behind 61-60. The Storm were held scoreless for two minutes of the final 2:34.

Angel McCoughtry scored 15 points and now has 5,120 in her career as she nudged past Swin Cash for 15th on the WNBA points list.

Seattle was held to four 3-pointers and shot just 33.8 percent from the field.

"I thought it was a battle," Dream coach Nikki Collen said. "Coming into the game, I thought it was going to take a monumental defensive effort. Seattle has been so good from (behind) the arc and really sharing the basketball. Obviously, a big key was getting (Breanna) Stewart in foul trouble."

It's no coincidence the Dream are allowing only 77.3 points per game -- third lowest in the league.

"It's the game plan," Hayes explained. "We're being disciplined, doing what (coach) says, and everything is working. Everybody is communicating with each other so when somebody gets beat there's someone helping. Our team is always going to be a defensive team, so when we do that right, everything else falls into place."

Having already defeated Connecticut and Seattle, the top two offensive teams in the league, Atlanta faces another stiff test.

Parker is just rounding into form after minor offseason surgery. She looked like her old self on Sunday, with 24 points, six boards and three assists. Nneka Ogwumike added 16 points and Chelsea Gray 15.

Brian Agler's squad turned up the heat on defense as well. The Sky were held to 28.3 percent from the field, and even more devastating was Chicago's 3-point shooting.

The Sky hit only one of the first 21 attempts from beyond the arc. The Sparks set the tempo early, took the lead, and never relinquished their advantage.

"I liked our aggression, and when we're able to play like that we're able to keep moving and we're at our best," Parker said.

The loss to Seattle was the worst home loss in Agler's three years in Los Angeles.

"I thought Nneka and Candace were really, really effective, especially early when they played minutes, because they're so mobile and skilled," he said. "I think it all started right there."