Sky tighten playoff race with Sparks after 76-75 win on the road

Coming into Tuesday’s game, the Sky were a game and a half behind the Sparks for the eighth and final playoff spot. What gives the Sparks an edge as both teams continue their playoff pushes is their rosters’ collective experience winning championships.

SHARE Sky tighten playoff race with Sparks after 76-75 win on the road

LOS ANGELES — The Sky and Sparks have had similar seasons.

Both are in the middle of rebuilds. Both have endured multiple losing streaks. Both have seen injuries to key contributors. And entering the last week and a half of the regular season, they find themselves battling for the eighth and final WNBA playoff spot.

Tuesday night, it was the Sky’s late-game composure that helped them secure a critical 76-75 win over the Sparks.

“Our team has personalities that don’t want to give up or back down,” Marina Mabrey said.

After heading to the locker room at the half tied at 43 apiece, the Sky came out in the second half firing. They outscored the Sparks 21-13 in the third quarter. The Sparks had an opportunity to win it after a 19-8 run in the fourth had them trailing by one with control of the final possession. They got three looks at the basket in the final 10 seconds, but their final by Karlie Samuelson hit the front of the rim as the buzzer expired.

After shooting 3-for-8 in the first half, Kahleah Copper finished with a game-high 22 points shooting 10-for-22 from the field. Mabrey added 14 points and Elizabeth Williams finished with eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

“This team has grown throughout the season,” Copper said. “We’re trusting each other and know what’s ahead and what we’re playing for. Having our backs against the wall is good for us. We’re working things out and keeping our composure and making a push.”

The Sky (15-21) still trail the Sparks (15-20) by half a game in the race for the eighth playoff spot. Their win Tuesday night will give them the advantage if both teams finish the regular season tied for that final playoff spot. The first tiebreaker is determined by both team’s head-to-head record. The Sky went 3-1 in their four-game series against the Sparks.

The Sparks’ edge in the final week could end up being their players’ experience winning titles.

Guard Jordin Canada was part of the Storm’s two championship teams in 2018 and 2020. Forward Nneka Ogwumike was named WNBA MVP during the Sparks’ 2016 championship run. Forward Dearica Hamby helped the Aces raise their first banner last season. And center Azura Stevens was a key contributor off the bench for the Sky during their title run in 2021.

“Everybody, with the exception of Nneka Ogwumike, has been asked to take on a bigger role than maybe some of the teams they won championships on,” Miller said. “They’ve been part of successful teams. They’ve seen leaders that they’ve played alongside of, and they know what it takes. They know what championships and winning locker rooms feel like.”

The Sparks remaining schedule includes two home games against the Storm and Mystics before they finish the season with three road games against the Sun, Liberty and again against the Storm. The Sky, meanwhile, play at home against the Liberty and Lynx and on the road against the Fever and Sun.

Smith on the shelf

Forward Alanna Smith was unavailable Tuesday after being placed in concussion protocol after the Sky’s win over the Storm on Sunday. Interim coach/GM Emre Vatansever said he didn’t know on what play she was injured.

Concussion protocol prohibits players from returning to play for at least two days, including the date of diagnosis, which for Smith was Monday. She now must complete a required return-to-participation process.

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