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Derek Fisher’s nightmares against the Sun continue in Sparks loss

Derek Fisher confers with Brittney Sykes during the Sparks’ loss to the Sun on Saturday night. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sparks head coach Derek Fisher has plenty of bad memories against the Connecticut Sun. In all, including Los Angeles’ 77-60 road loss Saturday night, the Sun have outscored Fisher’s Sparks by 108 points and won nine of their 13 matchups during his coaching tenure, playoffs included.

The Sun eliminated the Sparks from each of their last two postseason appearances, including a three-game sweep in the 2019 WNBA semifinals that Fisher’s team lost by a combined 57 points. In Game 2 of the series, the Sparks suffered their third-worst postseason loss in franchise history, 94-68. Particularly vexing for fans and analysts was Fisher’s decision to play his star, Candace Parker, just 11 minutes in Game 3. In Games 2 and 3, Parker averaged 3.5 points per game.

In 2020, the 10-12 Sun stunned the 15-7 Sparks, eliminating them from the playoffs with a 73-59 victory in a winner-take-all second-round game that Nneka Ogwumike missed with a concussion. Last season, the Sun swept the Sparks in their three-game regular-season series, including 18-point and 15-point victories.

One game into the 2022 season series between these teams, and Fisher’s nightmares against Connecticut have continued.

The Sun jumped out to a 12-0 lead Saturday night and ended the half on a 21-6 run, leading 49-25 at halftime. In the first half, Connecticut out-rebounded Los Angeles 27-9, and Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage, meanwhile, tallied a mere eight points and four rebounds combined in the half.

The Sparks responded with a strong third quarter, outscoring the Sun 19-8, including 8-0 runs to start and end the frame, and trailing 57-44 heading into the fourth quarter. The closest the Sparks came to the Sun in the second half, however, was nine points after Jordin Canada’s 10-footer made the score 67-58 with 4:18 remaining in the game. After Canada’s runner, the Sun finished the game on a 10-2 run to win 77-60.

Connecticut out-rebounded L.A. 45-21 overall Saturday night and held a 19-8 advantage on the offensive glass.

“Ideally, they’re going to get a good shot later in the (shot) clock,” Fisher said of Connecticut’s offensive strategy after the game. “And then they just really beat you up on the offensive glass, and that becomes their most effective offense other than in transition.”

Canada continued to be a bright spot for the Sparks, tying the team lead with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field. The UCLA product and two-time WNBA champion, who signed with the Sparks in free agency after four seasons in Seattle, leads L.A. with 15.5 points per game through the first four contests.

“We like her being aggressive,” Fisher said of Canada prior to Saturday’s game. “We want her to stay with her foot on the gas.”

Alyssa Thomas paced Connecticut with 23 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Jonquel Jones contributed 16 points, 12 boards, two steals and a block.

The Sparks play their home opener at Crypto.com Arena Tuesday night after beginning the season on a four-game road trip. Entering the season with a star-laden roster and high expectations, the Sparks are back to .500 after beginning the year 2-0.

“Eleven days straight since the season started and we haven’t seen our own beds,” Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said.” So, we’re looking forward to that opportunity to just get the natural energy (of playing at home).”

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.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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