Mystics-Sparks Preview

The Los Angeles Sparks continue their push for a bye into the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs Thursday night with the bonus of dealing the defending champion Washington Mystics a fatal blow to their postseason chances.

The Sparks (15-5) already have a bye into the second round, having secured a top-four finish. If Los Angeles wins its final two games, including a showdown with Las Vegas on Saturday, it could end up second to claim a spot in the semis.

Derek Fisher's team has won 12 of 14 after blowing out the league-worst New York Liberty 96-70 on Tuesday. Nneka Ogwumike had 20 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles, which raced to a 13-point lead after a quarter and never looked back. Riquna Williams also scored 20 points and Te'a Cooper added a career-high 15 in her first start as the Sparks shot 54.4 percent.

MVP candidate Candace Parker continues to help the Sparks hum, totaling 14 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. She is averaging 14.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while shooting 51.1 percent, with the latter number ticking to 53.4 percent against the other top five teams in the league.

"The versatility she plays the game with, it heavily impacts what we do on that end," Fisher told The Athletic. "Having a big player like Candace that can pass, that can shoot, that can do things off the dribble, it opens your offensive playbook tremendously."

Washington's playoff hopes continue to hang on a thread, having entered play Wednesday one game behind Dallas for the eighth and final postseason spot but also needing to overtake the Wings in their final three games.

The Mystics (6-13) began their stretch run on a positive note, edging the Minnesota Lynx 89-86 on Tuesday night. Myisha Hines-Allen had 26 points and nine rebounds while Tianna Hawkins sank four free throws in the final eight seconds to seal just Washington's third win in 16 games.

"Gut-check win for us," Mystics coach Mike Thibault told The Washington Post, "to be as low as we were and to bounce back and come out with great energy. I don't know if we guarded anybody until the fourth quarter, but we moved the ball. ... We got a lot of people involved in the offense and we got stops in the end when we needed it."

Hines-Allen as emerged as Washington's go-to player in crunch time, averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in his last eight games while posting five double-doubles in that span.

Los Angeles cruised to an 81-64 win over Washington on Aug. 13, taking control with a 14-0 run in the first quarter and forcing 21 turnovers for the game. Williams scored 13 points and Ogwumike added 12, while Ariel Atkins led the Mystics with 20 points.
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