Forward Jantel Lavender’s absence has clearly been felt over the last week.
There has been a pattern in the Sky’s last two games. The Sparks overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Sky on Sunday in Los Angeles. Then, on Friday at Wintrust Arena, they blew an 18-point lead against the same team in the third quarter. But this time they were able to recover with a surge in the final minutes to beat the Sparks 91-81.
“It’s tough,” said point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who scored 17 points Friday. “The timing is never ideal to lose a big player like that but we really had things rolling, she was starting to play really well for us, and that was huge.”
Lavender was the Sky’s most reliable player in their frontcourt. She averaged 10 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds.
Along with her on-court production, Lavender, the only player with a WNBA title on the Sky, was also the team’s spark. She was the one who rounded her teammates up in the huddle and taught them how to have a championship mentality. Her pep talks have worked numerous times this season.
But Lavender wasn’t at Friday’s game. She stayed home to rest after having surgery on her left foot Wednesday.
With Lavender out with what is likely a season-ending left foot injury — she’s projected to be out eight to nine weeks — the Sky will have to find a way to fill her void.
The Sky have great guard depth. However, the same can’t be said about their frontcourt.
The only thing that’s been consistent about the forwards this season is Lavender. Sure, Stefanie Dolson and Cheyenne Parker have had their fair share of impactful games, but they haven’t been reliable on a nightly basis.
Dolson routinely gets herself into foul trouble and Parker, who is the team’s best rebounder off the bench, hasn’t been efficient with her shooting. Neither were major problems Friday. Dolson and Parker finished with 10 and six points, respectively.
Forward Astou Ndour, who started the last two games in place of Lavender, has made great strides in the last week. She has been more aggressive on defense. She finished with a season-high 11 points.
The Sky kept the Sparks’ bigs under control at the start. Sparks forwards Candace Parker and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike went a combined 2-for-12 from the field in the first half. In the second half, the Sky didn’t bring that same intensity out of the gates and as a result, the bigs ran up the score.
The Sky, who are now tied with the Sparks for fourth in the playoff standings, must continue to adapt without Lavender.
They play two of the best bigs in the league next week. They host the Aces on Sunday and will have to find a way to control center Liz Cambage. Then, after playing the Dream on Tuesday in Atlanta, the Sky will have to find a way to stop Mystics star Elena Delle Donne.