Sparks aiming for revenge vs. Sun

With their backs to the wall, the Los Angeles Sparks sent a message to the rest of the league on Sunday.

By defeating the Las Vegas Aces 87-71, Candace Parker and company showed that while they might have flaws, the Sparks remain a championship-caliber team.

The Sparks forced 21 turnovers and shot 73.5 percent in the first half as Los Angeles avenged Friday’s loss.

The 12-5 Sparks get a chance to avenge another early-season loss when they play host to Connecticut on Tuesday at Staples Center.

In their five losses, the Sparks put up a couple of stinkers, having been blown out by 25 and 29 points. In their losses, they’ve been outscored by more than 17 points per loss.

But the Sparks have shown that when healthy, the only blowouts are coming with Los Angeles on the winning side.

Early in the season, Connecticut (9-7) was playing at a high level as the Sun won seven of their first eight games. Included in that streak was a 102-94 win over the Sparks.

Every Connecticut starter scored in double figures in that game, which saw Chiney Ogwumike finally get the best of her sister, Nneka. Chiney Ogwumike led the Sun with 18 points.

For the season, Chiney Ogwumike (15.2 points) leads five Sun players who average double figures. She’s second on the team (behind Alyssa Thomas’ 9.9 boards) at 8.0 rebounds per game.

But after that early success, came the condensed schedule and now the Sun have to be happy to turn the calendar to a new month having lost six of their past eight to close out June.

They’re coming off an 84-70 loss to Seattle on Sunday.

“We’re in the midseason point and we have a lot of different players playing big minutes for us and we’re still trying to figure out the pieces to the puzzle,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “Some days it’s going to be easier, some days it’s going to be harder, but nonetheless these challenges are going to make us better.”

Two immediate challenges facing the Sun are stopping Parker and Nneka Ogwumike and not succumbing to the Sparks all-out pressure that often fuels the offense.

On Sunday, Nneka Ogwumike returned after missing three games. Los Angeles is now 12-2 when both Parker and Ogwumike play.

For one, Sparks coach Brian Agler was more than happy to have Ogwumike back in the lineup.

“Her energy and competitiveness really helps out,” he said. “She’s a great communicator. She’ll communicate on the floor if she’s playing and communicate when she’s on the bench. Always really positive when it comes to Nneka.”

As usual, Ogwumike deferred praise to her teammates and their defensive intensity.

“It starts with the ball,” she said. “(Odyssey Sims, Riquna Williams, and Alana Beard) do a really great job of slowing the ball down to get us back on defense. I think we did a poor job of transition defense last game, so starting with the ball we were able to get our hands on a lot of deflections.”

Los Angeles’ defense will be tested by the league’s highest scoring team. The Sun average 87.8 points per game. The Sparks are averaging nearly eight points less at 79.7.

The Sun also lead the league in rebounding at 37.3 per game while the Sparks are on the opposite end pulling down a league low 30.2 per game.

The schedule has not been kind to Connecticut, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“We knew how difficult the road schedule was and we’ve played the least amount of home games in the league, but we’re rewarded at the back end playing 11 of 15 (at home),” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “We’re 5-1 at home so if we can just stay above water, we knew it was back loaded so we have to keep grinding before we get home.”