For more than a month, Nikki Teasley has watched, hoping that her teammates would pull things together and reach the playoffs.
Today, the Sparks and Teasley have another chance.
The Sparks scrambled and made the WNBA playoffs as the Western Conference’s fourth-seeded qualifier and play host to top-seeded Sacramento in a first-round opener Wednesday night.
And Teasley, who has played only 19 games because of injuries, is available. She has replaced reserve forward Jessica Moore on the Sparks’ playoff roster.
“I never had a doubt with this team [making the playoffs],” Teasley said after practice on Monday. “I’m so confident in our teammates.”
The last time Teasley, a two-time All-WNBA second-team selection and last year’s league assist leader, was on the floor for the Sparks was July 19. She has missed the last 15 games because of an inflammation of the arch in her right foot.
She is not yet pain free but ... “I can do pretty much everything -- run, cut, move laterally -- but it’s going to be painful the whole time,” Teasley said. “It’s something mentally I have to deal with.
“It’s tough having to get the chemistry back, just playing with the players. But I think my overall experience of being in the playoffs will help get me through the tough times.”
She has been the starting point guard since joining the Sparks in 2002, but Coach Joe Bryant plans to have Teasley come off the bench for the Sacramento series.
“She’ll come in and, hopefully, give us some quality minutes,” he said. “With a healthy Nikki, it takes us to a different level, especially on the open floor.
“It wouldn’t be fair to say what her effectiveness and conditioning is like right now. You can do all the track work, bike work and weightlifting you want, but it’s nothing like game situations. So we’ll play it by ear. But it’s a short series, so we expect her to give 110% because she can create easy baskets for us.”
Teasley may want to erase the memory of a short-circuited regular season that left her with her lowest scoring average since her rookie season, 7.4 points. She also had career lows in assists, 3.7; rebounds, 3.1, and shooting, 33.3%.
“I’m here to do whatever I can to help the team win,” Teasley said. “If that’s coming off the bench that’s fine with me. And actually, I’d prefer to come off the bench for now. It gives me a chance to see how the flow of the game is going, who has the momentum, what plays we can run, what advantages we have.
“It’s not always about being a starter and in the limelight. Sometimes, you’ve got to sit back and watch, and you’re better for doing that.”
Her teammates are as eager as Bryant to see what Teasley can bring to their game plan.
“This is a tough game for Nikki to come back to, playing Sacramento, because they can put so much defensive pressure on a point guard,” Lisa Leslie said. “But ... having another ballhandler and good passer, I think it will be great. We can use all the positive energy we can get and [having her back] is definitely positive.”
“This is great for us,” added Tamecka Dixon. “She gives us another body with experience. The downside is, she hasn’t played much this year and she may be a little rusty. But her experience speaks for itself.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
First-round matchups. All times Pacific (* if necessary):
*--* WEST No. 1 Sacramento vs. No. 4 Sparks * Game 1: Wed., at Sparks, 7:30 p.m. * Game 2: Fri., at Sacramento, 7 p.m. * Game 3: Sun., at Sacramento, 6 p.m.*
*--* No. 2 Seattle vs. No. 3 Houston * Game 1: Tonight, at Houston, 6:30 p.m. * Game 2: Thu., at Seattle, 7 p.m. * Game 3: Sat., at Seattle, 7 p.m.*
*--* EAST No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 4 Detroit * Game 1: Wed., at Detroit, 5 p.m. * Game 2: Fri., at Connecticut, 5 p.m. * Game 3: Sun., at Connecticut, 1 p.m.*
*--* No. 2 Indiana vs. No. 3 New York * Game 1: Tonight, at New York, 4:30 p.m. * Game 2: Thu., at Indiana, 5 p.m. * Game 3: Sat., at Indiana, 4 p.m.*