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    Sparks hopeful about their health before Las Vegas Aces rematch
    • July 11, 2023

    TORRANCE — For the first time in three weeks, the Sparks practiced with 10 players Tuesday at the team’s training facility at El Camino College in Torrance ahead of Wednesday’s home game against the first-place Las Vegas Aces.

    Tuesday’s practice, which included playing 5-on-5 full-court basketball, was a major milestone for the Sparks, who finished Sunday’s 78-72 loss at Phoenix with only seven healthy players.

    “(It’s) encouraging,” Sparks head coach Curt Miller said when asked about Tuesday’s upbeat practice. “Adversity like I’ve never seen. We’ve had some bad luck, but so proud of these guys fighting through the adversity, still where we’re at, just out of the playoff picture, knowing that we’ve had 11 different starting lineups (in 19 games) and a lot of adversity, so really proud of how they’ve handled it all and stayed together … We know we don’t have everyone back yet, but our best days are ahead.”

    “Super encouraging,” added Sparks rookie guard Zia Cooke. “I think to have everybody back is what we’re looking for. We’re looking to be 100% and to see that everybody is constantly getting themselves back to playing, hopefully by the end of All-Star we get everybody back, so that’s something we’re looking forward to.”

    Sparks guard Lexie Brown (non-COVID illness) and guard Layshia Clarendon (foot) practiced for the first time in several weeks but are not expected to return to action until after this weekend’s All-Star break. Sparks forward Karlie Samuelson (foot) also returned to practice after spraining her foot last Wednesday and missing Sunday’s loss at Phoenix. Samuelson is expected to be active against Las Vegas on Wednesday.

    Brown, Clarendon and Samuelson all looked spry, practicing in various on-court drills.

    However, the Sparks (7-12) were still missing guard Nia Clouden and forwards Chiney Ogwumike and Dearica Hamby, which means the team’s frontcourt rotation will likely be shorthanded against the Aces’ A’ja Wilson and Candace Parker.

    Clouden (knee), Ogwumike (foot) and Hamby (ankle) all received treatment for their injuries Tuesday. However, only Hamby is expected to play against Las Vegas (17-2), which would mean that Hamby and Cooke would continue their streak of being the only two Sparks to play in all 20 games before the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday in Las Vegas.

    “It takes a lot just to be prepared,” Cooke said. “I think preparation is huge for me, so I want to continue to be prepared every time I step on the floor and take advantage of the experience I’m getting right now and continue to push the best that I can.”

    Miller confirmed that the string of absences has provided opportunities for others like Cooke.

    “Through this adversity, what’s the unintended consequence? Well, Zia gets more opportunities and Zia’s got more minutes recently because of the injuries and illnesses. It’s only going to benefit her in the long run,” Miller said. “I think she’s really learning. I think the film session (Tuesday) will really help her.”

    On a positive note, the Sparks played full-court 5-on-5 basketball against male practice players for the first time this month.

    Jordin Canada, Jasmine Thomas, Karlie Samuelson, Nneka Ogwumike and Azurá Stevens saw first-team action in Tuesday’s practice, as all five veterans will likely see heavy minutes with Hamby, Cooke, Destanni Henderson and Rae Burrell rounding out the Sparks’ probable nine-person rotation against Las Vegas.

    “We don’t have our full roster. We don’t have everybody back and so the more we integrate people in, we’re just focused on us right now,” Stevens said. “We’re not focused necessarily on who we’re playing, we’re just focused on us continuing to grow and get better each and every day.”

    Miller is still seeking a successful outcome against Las Vegas that begins with effort and ends with execution.

    “I think first it’s our effort,” Miller continued. “It’s our togetherness, that’s where it starts, all the intangibles. Then execution will play a huge factor. You have to execute at a high level against them because you know they’re going to score. They have five really talented offensive players that are going to make plays, shoot a high percentage.

    “There’s a reason they’re offensively off the charts in all statistical categories because of that starting five (Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Wilson and Parker), so you’ve got to execute yourself at the offensive end and that for us is what I’m going to really look at. Are we doing a good job of trying to execute the shots?”


    When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: Arena

    TV: Spectrum SportsNet, CBS Sports

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    ​ Orange County Register