Sparks come back from break with a victory
So much for the fatigue factor.
The Sparks returned from their monthlong Olympic break Thursday night, not knowing what to expect from the well-traveled legs of Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones, who were teammates on the gold-medal-winning United States women’s basketball team.
What the Sparks received was more energy and purpose from their front line than at any point during the month of July, and enough poise down the stretch to enable them to hold on for a 78-63 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs at Staples Center.
Parker finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, Leslie had 14 points and eight blocks and Milton-Jones contributed 11 points and eight rebounds to help the Sparks to their first two-game winning streak since early July.
With the victory and Houston’s loss to Seattle, the third-place Sparks (16-12) moved 1 1/2 games in front of the Comets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with six games to play.
“I think we’re over the jet lag,” Milton-Jones said. “The first two days for me were difficult; I didn’t know if I was coming or going. Today, after a shoot-around and a nap, I came into the gym and I felt like I had my feet under me.”
Parker was benched in the first quarter for missing a defensive assignment and the Sparks fell behind by as many as nine points before chipping away early in the second behind six points off the bench from Sidney Spencer.
Parker, Leslie and Milton-Jones then scored all the points in an 11-1 run, helping the Sparks to a 46-39 lead at the half.
Sacramento guard Kara Lawson, who also returned from Beijing last weekend, converted two three-pointers early in the third quarter to keep the Monarchs close, but the Sparks followed with a 16-0 run to take a 66-45 lead.
The Sparks blew a number of fourth-quarter leads earlier in the season, and weren’t sharp in the fourth quarter Thursday, allowing the Monarchs to creep as close as 14 points with three minutes left.
“Prior to the Olympic break, this game might have gone to overtime,” Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said.
The Sparks tried a new starting lineup against the Monarchs, inserting point guards Keisha Brown and Shannon Bobbitt in the backcourt together.
“The one thing we’re having a problem with is minutes for everybody,” Cooper said. “It’s not about who gets it done, as long as it gets done.”
Margo Dydek, a 7-2 center who was signed this week to fill the roster spot belonging to injured forward Christi Thomas, is not expected to join the team until next week.