Sparks learning how to prepare for late-night starts

In a typical WNBA season, 10 o’clock at night would represent the end of game day for most players. Maybe they would be finishing a post-game meal, or perhaps laying down to get some sleep before the next day’s practice.

But not in 2020, the year of the WNBA’s Florida bubble. With a condensed season and teams sharing a limited number of arenas, 10 p.m. can be the local tip-off time, as it was Thursday for the Sparks’ 81-76 win over the Sun. And in those cases, players have to figure out a new way to navigate game day.

“I think it really is finding a new routine, a new way to prepare yourself,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said.

Of the Sparks’ 19 remaining games this season, 13 of them will start at 8 p.m. or later on the East Coast, like Saturday’s 8 p.m start against the Seattle Storm (5 p.m. PT). Four are scheduled for 10 p.m., meaning the game will end around midnight.

“I usually go to bed around 10 o’clock, so it’s kinda like my bedtime but I’m just trying to make the best of it,” Sparks forward Kristine Anigewe said.

Anigwe’s current strategy is to try to go to bed earlier this night before a game. The idea is that if she wakes up early on game day, it provides her with more time to take a nap prior to tip-off so she’s fresh for the game.

But this has its own potential pitfalls, as Fisher notes.

“Sometimes you can get too much sleep or take a nap in the afternoon,” he explained, “and it can end up being too long and you’re just sluggish after that no matter what you try to do.”

Some figure quality of sleep is the answer. Forward Candace Parker ordered her own mattress to be delivered to the bubble. Once it arrives, she figures it will be an improvement.

Beyond just making sure they are rested, players must find the right schedule to do their typical pre-game routines.

Veteran Seimone Augustus likes to do a stretching activation or yoga before each game. She’s still trying to figure out how that fits into later starts.

“It’s a long period of time throughout the day,” she said. “We have COVID testing, then shootaround, and then it’s about three or four hours or so before we play a game. So it’s just mainly trying to figure out your regimen and routine.”

And then Sparks players have to figure out their meal schedule. Eat too early, and you risk being hungry when the game starts. Too late, and it’s difficult to play a full basketball game.

With all these irregularities, some players are finding they can’t get away with certain foods. Guard Chelsea Gray had to switch up her pre-game meal this week after her choice prior to Tuesday’s loss to Chicago affected her performance.

“I think it was a lot of different spices going on that I don’t know if it was salty, but I just felt drained and not having my legs under me a little bit,” Gray said. “All that is important.”

Added Fisher, “There will be some nights where a couple players just don’t have it, and that’s why everybody else needs to be able to bring it every time we get a chance.”

Storm (2-1) vs. Sparks (2-1)

When: 5 p.m. PT

Where: IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida

TV: CBS Sports Network, Spectrum SportsNet

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