Wings try to catch Sparks in standings (Jul 11, 2018)

Dallas and Los Angeles will meet for the third and final time during the regular season when the Wings visit the Sparks on Thursday at Staples Center.

The Wings soundly defeated the Sparks 101-72 on June 22 in Dallas in the first meeting. Four days later, the Sparks avenged that loss with an 87-83 win at home.

Los Angeles is coming off a 77-75 overtime win on Tuesday against the league’s first-place team, Seattle. The road win snapped an uncharacteristic losing streak, which had reached four games.

Dallas also won last time out. The Wings are the hottest team in the league, having won four straight, including a 29-point win over Phoenix, which is one game behind Seattle.

Despite the winning streak, the Wings (11-8) remain one game behind the Sparks (13-8) in the standings.

“We’ve played a lot of games,” said Dallas coach Fred Williams in explaining why the Wings are playing better. “We are all starting to get to know each other a little more.”

Williams, like almost every other WNBA coach, points to defense as the key to success.

“The only thing that we are expressing more is defense,” he said. “How we play the ball off screens. Once that locks in, that makes you a better percentage on the win side.”

The Wings have to only look across the floor at Thursday’s opponents to see how good defense translates into wins. The Sparks rode their lock-down, tenacious defense to victory against the Storm as Seattle scored only six points in the fourth quarter.

“In years past, we’ve played great defense, but given up offensive boards,” Candace Parker said after Tuesday’s win. “We just try to make a concerted effort of giving them one shot and depend on our half-court defense.”

For the season, Los Angeles is allowing a league-low 76.7 points per game and held Seattle to under 21 points its regulation average.

But the Wings did crack the century mark against the Sparks earlier in the season, so the Sparks know the key will be stopping the one-two punch of Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Cambage is averaging 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds. Diggins-Smith contributes 19.3 points and 6.2 assists per game.

In the Wings’ win over the Sparks, Cambage scored 20 points. While Diggins-Smith was held to six points, Aerial Powers, Allisha Gray and Azura Stevens stepped up to fill the void and scored 16, 15 and 13 points, respectively.

To keep the win streak going, Dallas will have to make a similar effort — on both sides of the ball.

“Just stay focused on what we’re doing on defense,” Stevens said. “We’re staying disciplined on offense but I really think it’s our defense that has helped us a lot. … We know we are going to score so that’s all we have to do.”

Yep, all the Wings have to do is stop Parker to have a good shot at winning their fifth in a row.

Much easier said than done. In the Sparks’ win against the Wings, Parker scored 29 points and Chelsea Gray added 27. Nneka Ogwumike missed that game but should be in the lineup Thursday.

Los Angeles forced 17 turnovers and held the Wings to under 40 percent from the field in the victory.

Head coach Brian Agler believes the Sparks’ win over the Storm might be the springboard Los Angeles has needed to be more consistent this season.

“It could be,” he said. “There are a lot of teams playing well right now. There are some teams that if you look at the standings and think they’re not going to make the playoffs, but are playing pretty well. It’s going to be interesting how it plays out.”