Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Hot Sparks win 11 of 13 in WNBA action

As the Dodgers continue to lay waste to the National League West on their way to a possible third consecutive World Series and the Rams and Chargers prepare for their regular seasons (opening night is three weeks away), the Los Angeles Sparks are quietly having a fine season.

After winning 11 of their past 13 games, the Sparks are 15-8 on the season and trail the Las Vegas Aces by half a game in the WNBA Western Conference standings with 3 ½ weeks left to play in the season.

The Sparks have overcome a slow start caused mostly by an injury to Candace Parker, but have bounced back from a 4-6 start.

They defeated the Chicago Sky 84-81 Aug. 11 at Staples Center after trailing by 16 points in the second quarter.

Point guard Chelsea Gray led the way against the Sky with 26 points, including seven of the Sparks’ last nine in the fourth quarter, She also had six assists. Center Nneka Ogwumike added 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The Sparks are playing well under first-year coach Derek Fisher, the former Laker who failed in his opportunity as an NBA coach with the New York Knicks. Fisher has the Sparks playing together more than the team has in recent years.

Nneka Ogwumike has been the leading scorer, averaging 16.9 points a game to go along with 9.5 rebounds. Gray averages 13.6 points and 5.8 assists a game while running the offense.

Parker, who has played in only 11 games, is averaging 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds as she plays her way back into game shape.

Riquna Williams, Maria Vadeeva and Chiney Ogwumike (Nneka’s younger sister) also average more than 10 points a game.

The Sparks, who have won five straight games at home, have a two-game road swing with stops at Dallas Aug. 14 and Chicago Aug. 18 before returning home to play the Minnesota Lynx Aug. 20. After that, they will have eight more games before the playoffs begin.

Under WNBA rules, the top eight teams in the standings qualify for the playoffs, regardless of which conference they play in.

If the season ended today, the Sparks would be the fourth best team, getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs, which is a single game between the fifth and eighth place teams and the sixth and seventh place teams. The second round is also single elimination.

The semifinals and finals are both a five-game series format.

The Sparks have won three WNBA titles in the past, the most recent coming in 2016. They seem primed for another playoff run this year.

NOTHING TO KICK ABOUT: The Los Angeles Football Club continues to dominate the Western Conference of Major League Soccer, scoring a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls Aug. 11 at Banc of California Stadium.

Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura both scored their first goals of the season for LAFC and Carlos Vela scored his league-leading 23rd goal in the win that gave LAFC a 17-3-4 record with 10 games remaining. Los Angeles is 16 points ahead of the second-place Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference standings.

LAFC has three games coming up in an eight-day stretch, with the third a rematch against the Los Angeles Galaxy Aug. 25 at Banc of California Stadium.

LAFC has yet to defeat the Galaxy in three tries and will be gunning for a victory in 10 days.

The Galaxy are 12-11-1 and trail LAFC by 18 points. They are within two points of second place in the conference and still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.

RIVALRY MEETINGS: While the LAFC and Galaxy meet for the fourth time Aug. 25, another big local rivalry will resume the first night of the NBA season when the Clippers and Lakers show off their new rosters Oct. 22 at Staples Center.

It will be the first look for local fans at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Clippers red, white and blue and Anthony Davis in purple and gold.

The teams also will meet on Christmas night, as well as Jan. 28 and March 8.

The Lakers always play on Christmas. This will be the 21st straight year the team has played Christmas Day. The last time they didn’t play on Christmas was in 1998, when a lockout by the owners delayed the start of the season into January.

The Clippers have played on Christmas 14 times, most recently in 2016.

Leonard will face his former teammates, the defending champion Toronto Raptors, for the first time Nov. 11 at Staples Center. George will face his former teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time Nov. 18 at Staples Center.

For the Lakers, Davis will face his former teammates with the New Orleans Pelicans for the first time Nov. 27 at New Orleans.

The Lakers will play their home opener Oct. 25 versus Utah. Their home schedule also includes games against Toronto Nov. 10, the Golden State Warriors Nov. 13 and April 9 and Boston Celtics Feb. 23.

Clipper single-game tickets already are on sale to the general public at clippers.com/tickets. They are also available by calling (888) -9-AXS-TIX.

Information on Lakers single-game ticket availability will be announced in the coming weeks, a team official said.

A NEW CLOSER?: Russell Martin has now pitched three times for the Dodgers. He has pitched the last innings of three blowouts, saving relief pitchers from pitching in lopsided games that have already been decided.

Martin has faced nine batters in three innings, allowing only one base hit and striking out a batter. With those statistics, maybe Dave Roberts should consider him as the closer?

I’m being sarcastic, but after Kenley Jansen blew another save Aug. 9, I saw on social media where people were saying the Dodgers should simply release Jansen.

Jansen has 26 saves this year, tied for sixth most in the major leagues. Yes, he has five blown saves this year. So does Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees, who has 32 saves. Also remember that Jansen doesn’t get as many safe opportunities as other closers because the Dodgers are often ahead in the ninth inning by more than three runs.

Jansen is not the pitcher he was in 2017, when he had 41 saves. He’s two years older and nine months removed from heart surgery. If he continues to falter, the Dodgers will come up with someone to close games in October.

My top pick now would be Joe Kelly, who has rebounded from a disastrous first month of the season to be the Dodgers’ steadiest relief pitcher since early May.

If it isn’t Kelly, it could be Dustin May, the rookie who made his third start of the season Aug. 13 and pitched 5 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 15-1 pounding of the Miami Marlins.

The Dodgers have the last six weeks of the regular season to get their relief pitching lined up for the playoffs

I don’t expect to see Yimi Garcia, J.T. Chargois and Dylan Floro in the bullpen in October. Instead you will probably see Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and May, three starters who will move to the bullpen to help out when needed.

With Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler at the head of the rotation, the Dodgers can decide on May or Julio Urias as the fourth starter for the postseason and send the other guy to the bullpen.

If the offense keeps hitting, it won’t matter who comes out of the bullpen. It’s hard to blow 14-run leads.

The Dodgers have now hit 203 home runs this year and are well on their way to a new franchise record. They already have seven players with 10 or more homers and four others with eight or nine.

The defense is playing better now that Joc Pederson is back in the outfield where he belongs and the magic number is less than 30.

The Dodgers could clinch their seventh straight National League West Division title by the end of August.