Seeding drive for Sparks takes a hit in loss to Mystics

What the weekend now holds for Los Angeles

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 10: Brittney Sykes #15 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball against the Washington Mystics on September 10, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (NBA Content Network)

The Los Angeles Sparks have been battling for a top-two seed in the WNBA playoffs the past couple of weeks, but those aspirations took a major hit on Thursday.

The Washington Mystics used a strong third quarter that carried over into the fourth, to pull away and hand the Sparks an 80-72 loss. The top two seeds receive a bye through the first two rounds of the postseason.

The Aces won on Thursday, meaning the Sparks’ loss puts a big dent in their hopes for the second seed. They now trail Las Vegas by 1.5 games and will need a little help to secure the second seed.

If they beat the Aces on Saturday, and the Aces lose the Seattle Storm on Sunday, the Sparks will finish top two and have a bye for the first two rounds.

For the past couple of weeks, the Sparks have been preaching the importance of controlling their destiny when it came to playoff seeding, and now it appears as if they'll be reliant on what Las Vegas does.

"It was definitely a game that we wanted to win, but we didn't. We have to be adult enough to accept that as the reality now, we can't change it. But what we can do is adjust the way we approach any game going forward," Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said after the loss. "Hopefully this game serves as a strong reminder that we can't ever allow any opponent to outwork us, and still expect to win."

The Mystics were playing for something too as their playoff lives depended on the outcome. They entered the night half a game behind the Dallas Wings for the eighth and final playoff spot, with the Atlanta Dream nipping at their heels. They now move into a tie with the Wings.

Washington's energy level was clearly higher than the Sparks level in the fourth quarter, and as the game came down the last couple of minutes. The Mystics played like the team that wanted the win more and the outcome reflected that.

After the game, Chelsea Gray said she felt like the team came into the game knowing what was at stake, but didn't put forth that effort on the court.

"I think we came into the game knowing what we were playing for and I think they did as well…we were playing for two separate ends of the spectrum a little bit and they were fighting for their lives," Gray said. "We didn't play as if we were. That's the kind of feel and energy we have to have."

The Sparks have had different issues they've sought to address throughout the season such as slow starts and rebounding. They didn't come out with as high an energy level in the first quarter as they have in recent games, and although they did outrebound the Mystics, Leilani Mitchell, one of the smallest players on the court, had two key offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.

But according to Candace Parker, the Sparks main issue they have to focus on is their own mindset.

"It's a gift and a curse for us because it's really our mindset," Parker said. "It's been proven all season when we're ready to play, it's scary, it really is. When we're not, it's also scary."

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