Sparks get victory at full strength

This is the team Sparks Coach Michael Cooper envisioned.

Four U.S. Olympians playing on the court at the same time. An entire 11-player roster healthy enough to play. And more important, a talented and veteran team playing to its potential.

The Sparks (8-11) mixed those ingredients together and produced a 75-63 victory against the Indiana Fever on Monday in front of 8,263 at Staples Center.

The Sparks’ first consecutive victories came against the league’s top team (17-5) and put them one game behind the San Antonio Silver Stars (10-11) for the Western Conference’s fourth and final playoff spot with 15 games remaining


“It’s still just a win,” said center Lisa Leslie, whose team-leading 21 points gave her a league-record total of 6,010 career points. “We need them all. The proof tonight is if Indiana is the best in the league, we can beat any team in this league.”

Before that happened, however, the Sparks showed characteristics that defined their inconsistency-filled season.

After the Sparks had a 37-22 halftime lead -- the fewest points they have given up in the first half this season -- the Fever went on a 14-6 run to open the third quarter. Indiana slashed their lead to single digits when Katie Douglas’ layup made it 43-37 in favor of the Sparks with 4:03 remaining.

Briann January’s free throw with 7:31 left in the fourth quarter closed the Sparks’ lead to 53-52. Suddenly the 23.5% shooting they held Indiana to in the first quarter seemed like a distant memory.

“We need to bury teams, not let teams get back into the game and make it a struggle for us,” said Sparks guard Kristi Harrower, who scored 11 points.

The Sparks secured the victory, though, by closing with a 22-11 run. It was led by guard Noelle Quinn, who scored all nine of her points off the bench in the fourth period.

Despite the inconsistent performance, the Sparks expressed relief about fielding a fully healthy roster for the first time this season. Guard Betty Lennox was cleared to play after missing the last three games because of inflammation in her left knee, but she didn’t play.

Former U.S. Olympians Leslie, Tina Thompson, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Candace Parker and Harrower filled a lineup Cooper said will remain permanent “until something happens.”

“It was nice to look around the layup line and actually have somebody to throw it to,” said Parker, who scored 14 points.

Conventional wisdom suggests the Sparks’ week ahead should consist of clear skies. Their next two games tonight and Friday are against New York and Sacramento, which have the worst records in the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.

Though the Sparks still see unfinished business, this is at least a start.

“We played our first 15, 16 games as bad as I think any team I’ve been affiliated with in L.A.,” Cooper said. “But I knew this was going to come.”