Leslie's return not enough for Sparks victory

The wait is over.

Sparks center Lisa Leslie returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 11 games because of her sprained right knee.

The Sparks' problems, though, remain.

In a game that featured eight lead changes and five ties, the Sparks fell, 63-59, to the San Antonio Silver Stars before 13,865 at Staples Center.

Leslie was one of four Sparks players to score in double figures, contributing 13 points on four-of-13 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench. The supporting cast of Noelle Quinn (13 points), Candace Parker (11 points) and DeLisha Milton-Jones (11 points) wasn't enough to prevent the Sparks' fifth loss in seven games.

"I'm not frustrated," said Leslie, who described her play as rusty. "Every year, we're not promised anything. It's just a different challenge. We have to find a way to win."

That didn't happen Tuesday. A win would have put the Sparks within half a game of the Silver Stars (9-10) who hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Instead, the Sparks (6-11) remain in fifth place with 17 games left.

Nine of the Sparks' 12 games in August are at home, but Milton-Jones said the chance of a turnaround season "decreases with every loss."

"That's when the realization hits that this could get ugly," Milton-Jones said. "But I'm very optimistic, and I'm not going to give up until somebody tells me, 'You're dead.' "

The Sparks, who played without guard Betty Lennox for the second straight game because of inflammation in her left knee, were unable to hold onto leads. Tina Thompson's 8-foot jumper and Leslie's reverse layup gave the Sparks a 57-53 edge with 2:23 remaining, but San Antonio scored eight unanswered points to forge a lead it did not relinquish.

Ruth Riley's put-back with 46.6 seconds left put San Antonio ahead, 59-57. Leslie rebounded Riley's missed free throw, but shots by Kristi Harrower and Thompson fell short.

Becky Hammon, who led San Antonio with 20 points, secured the win with three consecutive free throws.

The Silver Stars shot 44% from three-point range while the Sparks shot 35.7% overall. Thompson, normally the Sparks' most consistent player, scored only four points and shot two-of-19.

"When I have open shots like that, I have to make them," said Thompson, who said she has struggled with a right thumb injury suffered July 11 against Washington. "It's no one's fault but my own."

Leslie blames the team's inconsistency on a lack of "mental toughness." Milton-Jones says it is a lack of "mental intelligence." They agree on at least one thing: time is running out.

"We feel it; we sense it," Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. "But a lot of our problems are in our own hands."




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