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Sparks’ Brittney Sykes shows flashes of brilliance at point guard

Sykes scored a season-high 25 points as the Sparks' backup point guard Tuesday night. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Backup point guard and Brittney Sykes are two phrases not often heard together, but the six-year veteran thrived in the role Tuesday night, leading the Los Angeles Sparks to a 93-91 nail-biting win over the Dallas Wings. Sykes played the position for the second consecutive game in the absences of the injured Jordin Canada and Kristi Toliver, who completed her assistant coaching duties last Thursday after the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

Sykes got to the basket at will against the Wings, scoring a season-high 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, which included seven layups. The 28-year-old guard also was 9-for-11 from the charity stripe, marking her most free-throw attempts as a Spark.

“Shoutout to ‘Fish’ for our offseason pickups, because that’s honestly what’s giving me the space to go and drive,” Sykes said after the game, referencing the attention shooters Katie Lou Samuelson and Lexie Brown get on the perimeter and that Liz Cambage receives in the paint. Head coach and GM Derek Fisher acquired all three during the WNBA offseason, raising expectations for the Sparks after two straight seasons of disappointing finishes.

In the Sparks’ 85-83 win Sunday in Minnesota, Sykes attempted just two field goals but did get to the line for six free-throw attempts. Fisher said he is continually encouraging Sykes to be aggressive, even when she’s playing point guard.

“When she sees gaps, she needs to attack and try to get to the front of the basket,” Fisher said. “We’re starting to see the potential she has to impact us offensively, and that really starts to create a balanced team that we’ve always wanted to have.”

Sykes heeded Fisher’s advice, spending much of her 26:53 on the court driving to the rack. This led to six assists, tied for Sykes’ most helpers in a Sparks uniform, and a 60-36 advantage for L.A. in points in the paint.

Fisher credits’ Sykes experience playing in Australia this past winter for her effectiveness at the point. After frequently handling the ball with the University of Canberra Capitals in the WNBL, her confidence in the role has grown even further with additional reps in the past two games.

“You’ve really seen her come into her own,” Fisher said. “We, for sure, plan to continue to explore it.”

Sykes’ most critical assist of the night came with 36 seconds left to play, when the guard crossed over Allisha Gray en route to the basket and appeared poised to try her eighth layup of the game. Instead, when Isabelle Harrison committed to Sykes, the Sparks guard made a perfect left-handed pass to an open Cambage for an easy lay-in and a 90-85 lead.

Despite holding a five-point advantage with 36 ticks on the clock, the Wings cut the deficit to 93-91 and then got the ball right back with 5.5 seconds left after Sykes was called for a questionable offensive foul as L.A. tried to inbound. On the ensuing play, Arike Ogunbowale was fouled. After missing her first free-throw attempt, she was whistled for a lane violation after pump-faking what would have been her second try.

Following the victory, Sykes was interviewed on the court and hugged comedian and Sparks superfan Leslie Jones. Seeing this, a group of teenage girls ran down the sideline to the corner of the court, where the night’s leading hugger also met them with hugs.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, Fisher said that it felt like his team had played “every minute of every day” thus far this season. On Thursday, the 5-6 Sparks will enjoy a rare break before preparing for Sunday’s matchup with the Phoenix Mercury, and the star of the game has big plans for her day off.

“Sleep, eat, sleep,” Sykes said with a smile. “Maybe a little NormaTec (a compression device for recovery and rehabilitation).”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.