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Confidence, teamwork help Sparks to a fast start

Confidence, teamwork help Sparks to a fast start
Candace Parker, driving against Karima Christmas of the Dallas Wings, has helped the Sparks set a franchise record with 10 consecutive season-opening victories. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Sparks cruised to a 98-85 win over Chicago on Tuesday, setting a franchise record with their 10th consecutive season-opening win. But they are still behind in the WNBA standings.

On that same day the defending champion Minnesota Lynx won their 11th straight game for the best start in league history.

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Still, the Sparks' streak is a big turnaround from a year ago when the team lost its first seven games.

"It's a complete opposite start, really. Just having everyone healthy makes a big difference," said Sparks Coach Brian Agler, who was hired in 2015.

The presence of two-time MVP Candace Parker, 30, is an obvious change from last year. She sat out the first half of the 2015 season to rest after playing overseas during the WNBA off-season. The Sparks were 3-13 without Parker, 11-7 with her. They reached the playoffs but were eliminated by the Lynx in the first round.

This season Parker is averaging 15.7 points and seven rebounds per game, second on the team behind fellow All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike.

Ogwumike on Tuesday extended her league record to 23 consecutive made field goals over the last three games. She finished the game 12 of 14.

The  2012 rookie of the year is having a career season, averaging 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds while hitting 70.4% of her shots.

"Her game keeps evolving because of her work ethic and her desire to expand her game," Agler said.

Ogwumike attributed the Sparks' strong start to a team effort.

"This year … everyone knows their role, everyone's familiar with each other and our chemistry is great," she said.

Parker noted that the Sparks "filled in some holes" in the off-season, adding size to the backcourt with guards Essence Carson and Chelsea Gray.

While a 10-0 start is never expected, perfection is less surprising for Minnesota, which has won three WNBA titles over the past five seasons.

"They have their core group together; they've been together for a long time," Parker said of the Lynx.

That core consists of star forwards Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, center Sylvia Fowles and guard Lindsay Whalen. All will be on the U.S. Olympic team this summer, while no Sparks players were selected.

As a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Parker's exclusion from Team USA's roster caused a stir when it was announced in April, and she tweeted at the time that she was "surprised & disappointed."

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The Sparks could extend their spotless record against Phoenix (4-6) on Friday, while the Lynx can do the same if they defeat Seattle (4-7) on Sunday.

"We haven't even talked about the streak. We just talk about the day at hand," Agler said.

By Tuesday, though, at best only one undefeated team will remain as the Sparks and Lynx face off at 12:30 p.m. at Staples Center.

renee.griffin@latimes.com

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