Where does Candace Parker fall in WNBA MVP race?

LOS ANGELES — Candace Parker didn’t have an All-Star hangover coming out of the break, which wasn’t much of a break at all for her as she represented the Sky during weekend festivities and Sunday’s game.

In the Sky’s first game back Tuesday — a 90-75 win over the Dream — the two-time league MVP was hot early and had an energy that signaled it was going to be one of those nights for her. She finished with 31 points in 33 minutes and had 11 rebounds, three steals, three assists and 12 deflections.

“At 36, there’s not a lot of days where I wake up and my body feels great,” Parker admitted. “[But on Tuesday], I was able to bring energy and move. I don’t want to waste those days.”

Late Thursday, the Eastern Conference-leading Sky faced the host Sparks in what could be Parker’s final game against her former team, which drafted her first overall in 2008. Parker continues to dismiss questions about retirement, saying she’ll make that decision in the offseason.

Meanwhile, discussions about who will be named WNBA MVP in 2022 are heating up, with the Storm’s Breanna Stewart and the Aces’ A’ja Wilson considered front-runners — and for good reason. Stewart is averaging a league-high 21 points per game, while Wilson is averaging a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Both have their teams in the top three in the league standings.

Still, Parker’s potential to win a third MVP award shouldn’t be dismissed. On the best passing team in the WNBA, Parker is just behind Sky leading scorer Kahleah Copper (14.3 ppg), averaging 14.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

The Sky’s ability to defeat opponents in a variety of ways is reflected in their stats, with six players averaging between 14.3 and 10.5 points. But despite Parker’s numbers being lower than they have been in the past, she has helped keep the team in first more than halfway through the regular season. Her name came up in tweets in response to a recent question about who the MVP will be, to which Copper responded, “I agree.”

In each of the last five years, the MVP has gone to the player with the highest scoring average on the top team in the league. Nneka Ogwumike in 2016 was the most recent player to be named MVP from a team that wasn’t the best in the standings; the Sparks finished second that year but won the title.

Only one MVP winner — the Fever’s Tamika Catchings in 2011, with 15 points per game — has ever averaged under 17 points. Three players in WNBA history have won the award three times: Sheryl Swoopes, Lauren Jackson and Lisa Leslie. If Parker is going to become the fourth this season, the Sky will need to stay on top.

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