Dream-Sparks Preview

The Los Angeles Sparks missed a chance to clinch a playoff berth in their last game and won’t get that opportunity Friday night.

The Atlanta Dream are winless halfway through this four-game trip as they play without a familiar face to Sparks fans.

The Sparks look to recover after being bullied in the paint as they face a Dream club playing without coach Michael Cooper.

Los Angeles (13-16) is in third place in the Western Conference and could have clinched a playoff spot as well by gaining the tiebreaker over fifth-place Tulsa but fell 96-90 at home to the Shock on Tuesday. The Sparks gave up 60 points in the paint and were outrebounded 37-17.

”A lot of is about effort and focus, and I think sometimes we focus too much on other things and maybe we forget to, or we’re out of position,” said star rookie Nneka Ogwumike, who scored a season-high 35 points. ”It’s just a combination of a lot of things.”

This contest figured to be a major moment for Cooper, the coach who guided the Sparks to their lone WNBA titles in 2001-02 in the franchise’s glory days with Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie. He coached Los Angeles from 2000-04 as well as from 2007-09.

The first-year Dream coach is not with the club on this trip as he continues to recover from surgery for tongue cancer. A full recovery is expected.

The Sparks’ inability to defend the paint Tuesday provides a blueprint for how to beat them that the Dream used in a 93-85 home win June 3. Atlanta held a 68-48 advantage in points in the paint, with frontcourt players Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle combining for 45 points and 23 rebounds.

Atlanta (17-12) has lost three straight and seven of nine, opening this trip with Tuesday’s 75-67 loss at Phoenix before trailing by 18 points after 10 minutes and never recovering in Thursday’s 88-68 defeat in Seattle.

”We have to keep on pushing,” said guard Tiffany Hayes, who scored a team-high 16 against the Storm. ”We need to pick up our energy and make sure we get these last couple wins on the road.”

Since the contest was a rout, Dream star Angel McCoughtry was limited to 21 minutes as she failed to make a basket for the first time this year. McCoughtry missed all five shots and scored a season-low two points after entering the contest third in the WNBA in scoring with 19.9 points per game.

The Dream have dropped their last two visits to Staples Center after winning their first four games there.