Off Bench, Holdsclaw Leads Sparks to Victory

Times Staff Writer

Sometimes it's not the game, it's the subplots. And there were plenty of them swirling around Saturday's contest between the Sparks and Washington Mystics.

Would former Sparks Latasha Byears and Nikki Teasley receive the same warm reception from Los Angeles fans that former Spark DeLisha Milton-Jones received the year before? They did.

Would former Mystics Temeka Johnson and Murriel Page, who came to the Sparks in an off-season trade, have big nights against their former team the way Chamique Holdsclaw did the year before? They did not.

The winner on this night was Holdsclaw, who burned the Mystics for a season-high 23 points off the bench for the Sparks, who hung on for an 80-75 victory at Staples Center.

Like Friday's win over Phoenix, it wasn't pretty. The Sparks again shot below 40% (23 of 62). But they made up for it at the free-throw line, making 31 of 39. And they continued to do other things, such as rebound and protect the ball to make the 43-34 lead they had after the first half stand up in the second.

And the victories are piling up. The Sparks (13-4) have won three more games this season than they did at the halfway point last year, and have a two-game lead over second-place Houston in the Western Conference. So far, it doesn't appear the Sparks will have to wait until the last game of the season to qualify for the playoffs.

"It's a totally different team from last year," Coach Joe Bryant said. "I think we understand how to win games. The most important thing, as we talked about in the beginning, was having to make free throws because you're not going to play perfectly the whole game."

Case in point: Johnson wanted a big night against the Mystics, but made only two of nine shots and scored 10 points. But she also made four free throws in the final 17 seconds.

But the Sparks really followed Holdsclaw's lead. She made seven of 15 shots and grabbed nine rebounds in almost 30 minutes. The only player on the floor longer for the Sparks was Mwadi Mabika, who had 19 points.

Coming off the bench "is not a problem," said Holdsclaw, who had been a starter her whole career. "We're winning games, everybody's involved."

Nakia Sanford scored 16 points for Washington (8-8). The Mystics' leading scorer, Alana Beard, sprained her right ankle with just over five minutes left in the first quarter and did not return. She was taken for X-rays after the game and is considered day-to-day.

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