The Los Angeles Sparks cannot be stopped. Not even a 16-point first-half deficit was enough to slow down the hottest team in the WNBA, who came storming back after the break on Friday night to stun the Atlanta Dream, 83-78, and extend their winning streak to six games.
Just a few weeks ago, the Sparks were multiple games behind the Chicago Sky in the race for the No. 8 seed. Now, they've put the Sky in the rearview mirror and cruised all the way up to seventh place. While a tricky remaining schedule may make it difficult to move up any further in the standings, the Sparks are on pace to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2020 and avoid the longest postseason drought in franchise history.
This has been a trying season for the Sparks, who have been shorthanded the entire way and lost more games to injury and illness than any other team in the league. Through it all, they have relied on their former MVP, Nneka Ogwumike, as a stabilizing force, and it was no surprise that she played a major role in their comeback on Friday.
The veteran forward dominated in the paint en route to a 29-point, 12-rebound outing that was one of her best of the season. She did most of that work in the second half to lead the comeback, and nearly matched the entire Dream team's output. Ogwumike finished the third and fourth quarters with 19 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-9 from the field; the Dream had 26 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-29 shooting.
In the process, Ogwumike recorded the 100th double-double of her career. She is one of just five players in WNBA history to achieve that feat, joining Sylvia Fowles (193), Tina Charles (173), and former Sparks legends Lisa Leslie (157) and Candace Parker (154). This was also Ogwumike's 50th 20-point, 10-rebound performance, making her the sixth player to reach that milestone.
For the season, Ogwumike, who has only missed one game, is averaging 19.6 points, nine rebounds and 2.8 assists on 51.6% shooting from the field -- numbers nearly identical to her MVP season in 2016. She's sixth in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and eighth in field goal percentage; the only other player in the top-10 in all three categories is reigning MVP A'ja Wilson.
With Ogwumike playing at the top of her game, and her supporting cast finally somewhat healthy, the Sparks are starting to look like they team they hoped they could be coming into the season. That's not going to be good enough to contend, but it could be good enough to make life very difficult for someone in the first round.