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Sparks have sense of playoff urgency with 8 games left – Orange County Register

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LOS ANGELES — It is safe to say the Sparks have had an up-and-down season.

After a 5-7 start, they parted ways with their general manager and head coach Derek Fisher on June 7.

Then with a 12-15 record, they agreed to a contract buyout with star center Liz Cambage on July 26.

The Sparks are now 12-16, needing several wins to secure a playoff berth to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, which has only happened once in the organization’s history – in 1997 and 1998, the first two seasons of the WNBA.

However, even at four games below .500, they still control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs.

“The sense of urgency is there,” said Sparks guard Kristi Toliver, a two-time WNBA champion, including in 2016 with the Sparks. “We’re attacking every single game. We’re just taking them one by one … we know we have games that we have to go get and go earn and I think in every situation and every game we will put ourselves in a position to win.”

The Sparks will host Minnesota at 4 p.m. Sunday at Crypto.com Arena, in what is most likely Lynx center Sylvia Fowles’ last time playing in Los Angeles.

Fowles, who has announced this season, her 15th in the WNBA, would be her last, is leading the Lynx in points (14.9), rebounds (9.9 rebounds) and blocks (1.1).

The Lynx (11-19) are two games behind the Sparks for the final playoff spot. The Sparks are looking to move closer to earning a playoff berth, after losing their last two games against the Las Vegas Aces (84-66) and Phoenix Mercury (90-80).

“I get to play basketball and that’s a win,” said Toliver with a smile on her face. “I think we can definitely take the momentum that we played with in the second half of that game (against the Mercury) and carry that into Minnesota and this (four-game) road trip.”

Toliver returned to the starting lineup against the Mercury on Thursday, after recovering from a lingering calf injury that has limited her to 10 games this season. The 5-foot-7 veteran guard joined the Sparks in June, after serving as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, who made the NBA Western Conference Finals.

With eight games remaining before the end of the regular season, Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who graduated from Mater Dei High in 2015, said the last two weeks of the season are about execution.

“At this point in the season, it’s not so much about the physical part of practice, it’s the mental part and the preparation part for the games,” Samuelson explained. “Definitely knowing that we need to lock in. We need to make sure all of our schemes are correct, what we know going into the game and just feel comfortable and confident with each other.”

Samuelson said she wishes the best for Cambage, who requested and received a “contract divorce” on Tuesday but said she and her teammates are focused on moving forward and making a playoff push with the 12 players currently on the Sparks roster.

“We’ve had so much change and there’s been a lot of ups and downs through this season, but the group that we have and the people that we’re surrounded by right now, have really been the rock, telling us to take it day by day at a time, knowing that things aren’t always going to be smooth sailing,” Samuelson said.

“And clearly we would have liked it to be smoother throughout the whole season, but we have really good people, a really good group that wants to keep getting better, wants to get as much as we can out of this next stretch, and I think we have the confidence that we can make a really good run.”



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