Sparks aims to reverse its record against WNBA’s elite teams

There was no reason for the Sparks to overreact to Friday’s loss to the Seattle Storm.

Seattle is the first-place team in the league, and if not for a buzzer beater that may or may not have come with a heel out of bounds, the Sparks would have taken the win.

But it did continue a trend that L.A. wants, and needs, to get right before the regular season comes to an end in a week: the Sparks’ struggles to close out wins against elite teams.

The Sparks (13-5) are 1-4 against Seattle, Las Vegas and Minnesota, which with the Sparks are among the top four teams in the WNBA. They are 2-0 against fifth-place Phoenix, but lost their only encounter with sixth-place Chicago.

Against the back-half of the league? L.A. is 10-0.

“Obviously we wanted to win this one,” Sparks forward Candace Parker said after Friday’s loss. “At some point, we got to win against a top team.”

The Sparks will get their chances, even with four games left to play. First up is Chicago (11-8) on Sunday with a chance to even the season series.

The first meeting between the teams came in the second game of the season. At that point, the Sparks were a different team. Riquna Williams and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt were still starting rather than Brittney Sykes and Sydney Wiese. And the team was still trying to figure out its dynamic with six new players and no preseason to coalesce.

Still, the game had some indicators of what would become season-long frustrations, such as the Sparks losing the rebounding battle 38-30 on the way to an 18-point loss.

So Sunday is a chance to atone and show the growth the team has made since late July, though it remains to be seen if Nneka Ogwumike will play for the Sparks after missing the last three games with back tightness.

But there are some real playoff implications at stake, too. After the loss to the Storm, Los Angeles fell to third place in the WNBA standings. With four games left to play, the Sparks are a half-game out of second place, when the top two seeds in the league receive a double bye in the postseason.

With the season finale coming against second-place Las Vegas, the Sparks still have a chance to earn that extra rest, which is crucial this year given the compact schedule.

So that’s why Parker wasn’t concerned about the Seattle loss carrying over into the Sparks’ next games.

“I think everybody’s trying to play for that so they can get extra rest. So I think the motivation is there,” Parker said. “Crazy as it is we still control our own destiny.”

Chicago Sky (11-8) at Sparks (13-5)

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.

TV: CBS Sports Network, Spectrum SportsNet