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WNBA Preview: Los Angeles Sparks (16-22) at New York Liberty (31-7)

Los Angeles Sparks coach Curt Miller has emphasized that his team needs to narrow its focus amid its postseason push.

Miller’s ideals will be put to the test when the visiting Sparks (16-22) face the New York Liberty (31-7) on Thursday at Brooklyn.

Since the weekend, the Sparks first lost their star player and then their grip on the final spot in the WNBA playoffs. Eight-time All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike, who leads Los Angeles this season with 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, was scratched before Sunday’s 72-64 home win over the Washington Mystics because of knee pain.

The 33-year-old was listed as “questionable” for Thursday’s game.

The Sparks sorely missed Ogwumike in Tuesday’s 90-76 road loss to the Connecticut Sun, which dragged Los Angeles into a tie for eighth place with the Chicago Sky, who own the tiebreaker between the two clubs.

Each No. 8-seed candidate has two games remaining, so the Sparks’ results are meaningless if the Sky win out. Los Angeles can help itself by beating New York, which is a feat far from guaranteed even if Ogwumike returns.

Miller’s squad will have to tame the WNBA’s hottest team led by a record-setting player performing at an MVP level.

The Liberty have won seven straight games, including a 94-93 victory over the Dallas Wings on Tuesday at Arlington, Texas. In that win, Breanna Stewart first broke a WNBA record before she added to her own ongoing league record.

The five-time All-Star and 2018 MVP eclipsed Diana Taurasi’s single-season scoring record when she made a free throw in the second quarter to give her 861 points for the year. Stewart’s go-ahead foul shot with 42.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner and cemented her record-extending fourth 40-point game this season.

New York is 2-0 against Sparks this season, with both wins coming at Los Angeles just over a month ago.

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