Sparks Don’t Rule This House

Times Staff Writer

As the WNBA regular season winds down, the Sparks are battling for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

After slogging through a 70-62 loss Wednesday to the San Antonio Silver Stars, reducing their Western Conference lead over Houston to three games, the Sparks might wonder if it’s worth the effort.

It was their fifth loss in 13 games at Staples Center -- one more than they had their first two years.

Their performance against the Silver Stars, before 10,686, fit a familiar pattern. The Sparks (18-6) were outrebounded, 49-48, shot just 37.1%, and had 13 turnovers to San Antonio’s eight.


There was also a key lapse in the second half. The Sparks had expanded a 27-23 halftime lead to 37-28 with 15 minutes 46 seconds to play on a three-point basket by Nikki Teasley. But in the next 10 minutes, San Antonio -- led by Marie Ferdinand and Jennifer Azzi -- outscored the Sparks, 22-6, to take control. And the Silver Stars stayed in control with the help of excellent free-throw shooting. They made 30 of 39, including 12 of 14 in the final 2:21.

It was the second consecutive win for the Silver Stars (8-16) since Shell Dailey replaced Candi Harvey as coach, and only the second win for the franchise in Los Angeles -- dating to its days in Utah.

It also erased the bitter memory of the June 26 game in Texas, when the Sparks overcame a 22-point deficit to win, 67-58. It was a league record for a come-from-behind victory.

“We did have that game in the back of our minds,” said Ferdinand, who had a game-high 20 points. “We talked about it in the locker room, determined that it wouldn’t happen today. If we got any type of lead we were going to hold on to it, and do the things that got us the lead.”


There weren’t too many things the Sparks did that pleased Coach Michael Cooper.

“You credit San Antonio,” he said. “They came to play and took it to us. I didn’t think we wanted it badly enough. We think teams will come in here and just roll over and give it to us because we’re at home, and that’s not happening.”

DeLisha Milton led the Sparks with 18 points but also missed several layups. She said she is baffled and frustrated by the Sparks’ lack of success at home.

“When you look at it, home should be your comfort zone,” Milton said. “But we tend to get so relaxed. On the road we have a focus, we’re on a mission. But at home it’s like we’re distracted by everything, little things that shouldn’t even matter.

“We’ve got to find a way, because we’re going for another championship, and home is definitely where we know we should have a win.”

Cooper and the coaching staff took a long look at Vanessa Nygaard on Wednesday. The 6-foot-1 forward, who signed a seven-day contract in part because of the injuries to starters Lisa Leslie and Tamecka Dixon, played 26 minutes, made one of three shots and had three rebounds before fouling out. Nygaard also led the Sparks in floor burns, diving several times for steals or jump balls.

Cooper sounded ready to extend her deal. “In one game she’s worked herself into the rotation,” he said. “I’m gonna play the people who want to play, who go for the loose balls, who box out, and do the little things it takes for us to win.”

Nygaard said she would do whatever is asked. “I’ll play as many minutes as they want to give me,” she said. “I just want to help the team while Lisa is out.”



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at Sacramento, 7, ESPN2

Site -- Arco Arena.

Radio -- KPLS (830).

Records -- Sparks 18-6, Monarchs 12-12.

Record vs. Monarchs -- 2-1.


Update -- Sacramento, like San Antonio, has been thriving after making a coaching change. The Monarchs have won five of six games, including Saturday’s 76-63 victory over Seattle, since replacing Maura McHugh as coach with assistant general manager John Whisenant. Sacramento has also gotten back into the playoff hunt, one game behind Minnesota for the fourth spot. Forward Yolanda Griffith (15 points, eight rebounds) has put her injury-plagued 2002 season behind her. After appearing in 17 games last season, Griffith has started every game this season for Sacramento. The Sparks are one loss away from equaling last season’s total. Vanessa Nygaard’s seven-day contract will expire after the game, but the Sparks probably will re-sign her because Lisa Leslie (knee) is not ready to return.