How Liz Cambage’s departure from Los Angeles Sparks impacts the WNBA playoff race

The Los Angeles Sparks shared their turmoil during the 2022 WNBA season, but more mayhem followed this week as the four-time All-Star center Liz Cambage asked to leave the team. The organization announced a contractual divorce on Tuesday, meaning the Sparks won’t get their prized free agent as they battle for a playoff spot after missing last year’s season for the first time. first in a decade.

If the season ended today, Sparks would be the 6th seed in the knockouts, but Dallas Wings, Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury all in half the game. Top eight teams in WNBA Rankings into post-season.

Cambage’s time with Sparks seems predestined: Since she was enlisted in the military in 2011, she’s made it clear that she wants to play in Los Angeles, a place she admired growing up in Australia. Her time with the organization that drafted her, Tulsa/Dallas, ended when she requested a pre-season trade in 2019. She spent two seasons with her. Las Vegas Aces before signing with Sparks for the season as an unrestricted free agent.

Before the 2022 campaign, Cambage seems to have a very good chance for Sparks to make a splash in the WNBA this season.

“It’s going to be the wildest summer the WNBA has ever seen,” Cambage said in April, “and we’ll have a game at the end of the season.”

It really was a wild summer. The Sparks have lost five games in a row in the first two and a half weeks of the season, and Fires head coach and general manager Derek Fisher in early June. Now, Cambage is leaving the organization she’s longed to be a part of, with the prospect of playing again in the league seemingly in doubt.

Where does Cambage’s departure leave Sparks, and what’s next for the team and for Cambage’s WNBA future?

How have the Sparks lineup and playoff hopes changed?

In the two games Cambage missed recently in COVID-19 protocol, Sparks drew 1-1, falling to the top spot Chicago sky by 12 and beat the last place Indiana Fever by seven. Chiney Ogwumike started in Cambage’s place, scoring a brace in one of the games and losing only another.

With Cambage gone, if Sparks wants to secure a spot in the post-season, Nneka Ogwumike will need to continue playing at the level of MVP she’s shown so far this season, while Chiney Ogwumike will need to hit the field with her best basketball of the summer and stay healthy. more minutes. (She missed several games earlier this season with a knee injury and then a non-COVID-19 illness.) Olivia Nelson-Ododawho already has a solid start to his professional career, will also have more time.



Chiney Ogwumike arranges a trip for Sparks.

While Cambage’s minutes are somewhat limited during her brief stint in LA – she’s played more than 30 minutes just twice this season, both times in May – she still delivers. present inside, can control the goggles and is very adept at the Free Throw Line. Those will be the areas where Chiney Ogwumike and Nelson-Ododa will have to help Nneka Ogwumike.

Among the lineups without Cambage that have had more than 25 minutes on the floor this season, the core of Nneka Ogwumike / Chiney Ogwumike /Brittney Sykes/Lexie Brown with either Jordin Canada or Katie Lou Samuelson were the most successful, with a net rating of around plus 22. Teams without Cambage were notably four times more defensive than those with All-Star centers.

By agreeing to a contractual divorce (i.e., outright purchase) with Cambage instead of having to eat her full salary, Sparks opened up limited space to add surrogates. Immediately after the announcement on Cambage, LA signed again Kianna Smith with a seven-day contract.

That said, injuries and illnesses have been an issue for the Sparks throughout the season, as not a single player appeared in all 27 games this year. Chiney Ogwumike, Brown and Kristi Toliver was out on Saturday, Sparks’ most recent game against the Aces, while Sykes, Canada and Chen Kennedy Carter also missed meaningful time this summer. Staying healthy will be important to LA. – Philippou

What challenges does the Sparks upcoming schedule present with just over two weeks left of the regular season?

With nine games remaining in the 2022 season, Los Angeles is in control of its playoff future. The Sparks play against each other in three other teams (Atlanta Dream, Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury) who are currently separated by a single loss on the leaderboard for the last three places in the WNBA post-season. (At 12-15, Los Angeles is sixth with Dallas; Atlanta and Phoenix are playing the second half of the return match 12-16.)

Those head-to-head encounters, which kick off Friday in Phoenix in the Sparks’ first game without Cambage, will be especially important because each of them has a close relationship with the series. . Los Angeles has a 2-1 head-to-head record against both the Mercury and Wings, so a loss would mean a move on to the next tiebreak (against teams .500 or higher), while the series The season with Dream will be decided when the teams meet on August 5.

In addition to those three games, the Sparks will have a chance to beat two other playoff hopefuls – New York Libertytwo games back, and Minnesota Lynx, three back sides of Los Angeles – beyond the picture. Los Angeles’ next three games after visiting Phoenix will host Minnesota, then face off at Barclays Center with the Statue of Liberty.

The Sparks won’t face a team leading them in the standings until the final week of the season, when they visit. Washington Mystics and the organization Connecticut Sun in fighting games. By then, Los Angeles can hope to build enough base to not need to win to avoid a playoff spot when Dallas visits to close out the regular season on Aug.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index predicts Sparks making it to the knockouts in 56% of simulations, the lowest odds of a four-team battle for the final three, but shows the race is still wide. how open. – Pelton

What is the future for Cambage in the WNBA?

We may have seen Cambage’s last WNBA game. Sparks was able to contract her for less than maximum salary as a freelance agent in large part because the market for her services was constrained last winter.

That came before the public became aware of allegations that last year Cambage directed a racial slur against members of the Nigerian national team during a pre-Olympic practice match against the team. Australian country. Cambage has denied the allegationsalready known in the confederacy by the time she became a freelance agent.

When The Sunday Telegraph reported in May details of Cambage’s actions, citing the Nigerian players who remained anonymous, the Sparks players and then-coach Fisher publicly supported her. Now that Cambage has left Los Angeles, it’s unclear where else in the league she might find such support.

Despite Cambage’s continued productivity – she’s averaging 20.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.2 career-high assists and 2.5 tackles per 36 minutes with Sparks, no far from the All-Star record of the last three seasons she played in the WNBA — These are two teams that in less than a year decided they would be better off without her. The Aces continued after two seasons with Cambage, leaving her signed to Los Angeles.

This time, Cambage could find himself without another landing spot. – Pelton

It should be noted that after Sparks shoot out Fisher, Cambage was again under the tutelage of Fred Williams, her former Dallas coach, with whom she had a particularly close relationship. Not to blame one way or the other, the fact that things went awry for Cambage while working with one of her few remaining supporters at W doesn’t bode well for the body. her guild to find a new home in the future league. – Philippou

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