Sparks battle without Nneka Ogwumike but lose to Mystics – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — In her first game back after testing positive for COVID-19 and clearing health and safety protocols, Sparks guard Brittney Sykes scored 12 of her 16 points in the first half, but the Sparks lost to the Washington Mystics, 94-81, on Tuesday night at Arena.

“Life came at me pretty fast,” Sykes said when asked about being sidelined for the previous four games. “I wanted to be with my teammates. I know how much we put in that work in the gym and one person goes down as you can see, it’s almost like a domino effect.”

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season, did not play against the Mystics due to a non-COVID-related illness, as is considered day-to-day per interim head coach Fred Williams.

“I think Nneka is our engine,” said Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, as she replaced her older sister Nneka in the starting lineup. “She’s a silent killer and her IQ is super high so I think without her it was sort of that comfort zone that we’ve been in for a long time, sort of was a little disrupted but I do think it was a good experience for everyone to value what we have so that when we do have her, we don’t take for granted how hard and how well she plays.”

Two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 26 points in 27 minutes, and Mystics guard Natasha Cloud had 21 points and nine assists.

The Sparks (10-13) trailed 53-44 at halftime but began the third quarter on a 4-0 run, while at the same time turning up their defensive intensity and forcing a 24-second shot clock violation to pull within 53-47.

However, the Mystics (15-10) responded and extended their lead to 69-60 heading into the fourth quarter before pulling away by nearly 20 points in the final minutes.

Meanwhile, both Sykes and Sparks guard Kristi Toliver came off the bench and played more than 20 minutes against the Mystics after being activated from the injury report. Toliver scored 11 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“I just have to go with (who) we have that are healthy and ready to go for us,” Sparks interim coach Fred Williams said. “It’s a learning experience for us, some of the young ones that get a lot of minutes right now so that’s good for us but what’s bad for us sometimes is we don’t have all the team together that’s when it kind of throws our rhythm off.”

Meanwhile, Mystics coach Mike Thibault said he wanted to be able to matchup against Sparks center Liz Cambage and prevent the 6-foot-9 post player from getting second shots, while limiting her free-throw attempts.

Cambage finished with eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes. She was 2-4 at the free-throw line.

“I think in general, we’ve known how to help on her (and) when to do it,” Thibault shared in a pregame interview. “The other thing is you have to make Liz play on both ends of the court, make her work on the defensive end.”

Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson had 16 points.

Meanwhile, Williams believed there was a lesson to learn by playing without Nneka Ogwumike, who he hopes will return for the next game when the Sparks host Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

“I think they learned that we cannot have turnovers that convert into points at the other end, especially if you have a player that is capable of double doubles like Nneka,” Williams continued. “We pretty much gave some points away just by errant passes and that’s just a little mental mistake.”

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