This has not been the easiest season for the Los Angeles Sparks. After a number of high-profile additions in the winter, they got off to a 5-9 start and fired head coach and GM Derek Fisher. But every time the team looks down and out it finds a way to bounce back, thanks in large part to All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike.
That trend continued on Thursday afternoon, as Ogwumike led the Sparks to a crucial win over the Atlanta Dream, 85-78. Ogwumike filled up the stat sheet, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals on 9 of 11 shooting from the field.
Despite what the shooting percentage may suggest, these weren’t an easy 20 points. Ogwumike was knocking down tough shots from all over the floor, including multiple turnaround fadeaways from the mid-post. Her 3-pointer with just under two minutes remaining pushed the lead to 13 and sealed the win.
After a three-game losing streak on either side of the All-Star break to fall to 10-14 and out of the playoff picture, the Sparks have turned back around thanks to Ogwumike. She put up a season-high 35 points in a win over the Indiana Fever earlier this week, then followed it up with this strong outing against the Dream.
With two straight wins, the Sparks have jumped into sixth place at 12-14. They now lead a massive pack of six teams that are separated by three games and fighting for just three playoff spots. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but with three weeks remaining in the regular season the Sparks are now in the driver’s seat to claim a playoff spot.
If the Sparks do end up getting to the postseason, they’ll have Ogwumike to thank. The former MVP is playing some of the best basketball of her career, and is forcing her way into the conversation for that award again, even though she’s unlikely to win given her team’s record.
For the season, Ogwumike is averaging 19 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game on 56.8 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point land. She’s sixth in the league in scoring, second in field goal percentage and third in steals.
If those numbers hold, she’ll become just the third player in WNBA history, along with Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie, to put up 19 points, six rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from the field, per Across The Timeline. Furthermore, she’s now just 64 points behind Swin Cash for 20th place on the all-time scoring list. Once she gets there she’ll be one of seven active players in the top 20.