Sparks overpowered by Mystics without All-Star Nneka Ogwumike

One team had its former most valuable player. The other didn’t. The result was as expected.

Elena Delle Donne dominated the Nneka Ogwumike-less Sparks on Tuesday, dropping 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting in less than 28 minutes in the Washington Mystics’ 94-81 win at Crypto.com Arena.

Ogwumike, the Sparks’ leading scorer and rebounder with 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, was added to the team’s injury report with a non-COVID illness about 75 minutes before tip-off. The 11-year veteran started in her seventh All-Star Game on Sunday and highlighted the weekend with a dunk, but was not seen at practice Monday and missed the shootaround Tuesday morning.

Interim coach Fred Williams said Ogwumike is day to day but hopes to have her back Thursday against the Chicago Sky at home.

“I need her on Thursday, that’s for sure,” Williams said with a soft chuckle. “We missed her tonight.”

Without their team captain, the Sparks, the second-best paint-scoring team in the WNBA, were outscored 40-26 in the paint. Liz Cambage had eight points and three rebounds on three-for-nine shooting while the Sparks got outrebounded 35-23.

“Nneka’s our engine and she’s like a silent killer and her IQ is super high,” said Chiney Ogwumike, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds for her second double-double in three games. “Without her … that comfort zone that we’ve been in for a long time, it was sort of a little disrupted.”

Delle Donne, who has been recovering from back surgery the past two seasons, played in L.A. for the first time since 2019 and exposed a short-handed team. The 2019 most valuable player drained a corner three-pointer with 5:49 remaining in the fourth to stymie a comeback attempt after the Sparks (10-13) cut the deficit to five. Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud (21 points and nine assists) were a combined five for five from three-point range in the fourth quarter.

The Mystics (15-10) improved to 12-4 this season when Delle Donne plays.

“Whether it’s part time, full time, quarter time, the league is better having her out there,” Chiney Ogwumike said, “and we’re better as opponents getting that challenge.”

Sparks guard Brittney Sykes returned from a four-game COVID-19 absence with 16 points off the bench.

Sykes, who isolated for a week in Kristi Toliver’s Dallas home after testing positive for the coronavirus on July 1 before a game against the Dallas Wings, got off to a quick start with 12 points in the first half. She added two assists and three steals.

Katie Lou Samuelson had 16 points on six-for-eight shooting, including four three-pointers.

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