The Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury underachieved in different ways last season. Maintaining a strong presence within the Western Conference will be paramount for these rivals during this unique WNBA campaign.
Within the "wubble" of the famed IMG Academy, the Sparks take on the Mercury to open the coronavirus-themed 2020 WNBA season on Saturday in Bradenton, Fla.
Aside from the fact that the world is amid a health pandemic and the WNBA season will be played within the confines of a single location, the Sparks and Mercury hope this unprecedented season will feature plenty of success. That said, the focus within this "new normal" is relatively straightforward for those involved.
"It's basketball," new Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith told the WNBA's official website. "The ball is still round. It's still played the same way."
Though veterans and key contributors Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver are sitting out the season for health reasons, the Sparks believe they are capable of taking care of some unfinished business from 2019. Los Angeles won seven of its final nine games last season to win the West with a 22-12 record.
However, the Sparks were swept by Connecticut in the semifinals and still have a bad taste in their collective mouth that they hope to get rid of this season. They also appear to have plenty of confidence to take the next step in 2020.
"I think once we're able to put it all together on the court, it's gonna be an unbelievable season," guard Chelsea Gray, who averaged 14.5 points and 5.9 assists in 2019, told the Sparks' official website. "I really, truly believe that. I think we're on the verge of doing something special. We had a lot of lessons in the playoffs, even the regular season, we were able to overcome so many different things."
Nneka Ogwumike (16.1 points per game 8.8 rebounds per game in 2019) and Candace Parker (11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) once again are the faces for the Sparks, who won two of the three meetings last season with Phoenix.
Despite going 15-19 and playing only six games with legend Diana Taurasi (back and hamstring injuries), the Mercury still found their way into the playoffs. With Taurasi (4.3 ppg, 5.3 apg) apparently healthy and Brittney Griner (20.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) once again an MVP candidate after finishing as runner-up in 2019, Phoenix expects to be better in 2020.
The addition of fellow star Diggins-Smith, who came over from Dallas after sitting out last season while on maternity leave, offers some needed reinforcement. Diggins-Smith dished out a career-best 6.2 assists in 2018, however, the Mercury lost DeWanna Bonner (17.2 ppg) to the Connecticut Sun and need to step up defensively after allowing an average of 77.6 points last season,
Still, they seem confident things will improve in 2020.
"We have a great group," Diggins-Smith said. "We have great personalities. Everybody is very unselfish."
Veteran forward Jessica Breland will sit out the season for Phoenix due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Updated July 24, 2020