Sparks can't quite pull it all together

The Sparks showed they could beat the best team in the league Monday, but even with another player back, they couldn't beat one of the worst.

The Sparks lost to the New York Liberty, 65-61, Tuesday night despite the return of guard Betty Lennox. The Sparks (8-12) remained in fifth place in the Western Conference, one game behind the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The Liberty (8-14) is 2-0 against the Sparks this season.

"I knew this was going to be a tough game for us after playing a back-to-back," Coach Michael Cooper said. "We had an opportunity to win and we didn't go get it."

Liberty forward Shameka Christon scored 11 points and guard Loree Moore had 10. Lisa Leslie led the Sparks with 12 points and Candace Parker had 11 points and 11 rebounds, her sixth double-double in eight games.

Lennox sat out three games because of inflammation in her left knee. Soon after entering the game in the second quarter, she made three three-point baskets and scored all of her 11 points in the period.

"I don't feel like I was 100% as far as my energy level was concerned, but I felt good and excited to be out there," Lennox said.

Eight fourth-quarter points from Parker pulled the Sparks to within three points with 1 minute 16 seconds remaining, but Liberty guard Essence Carson made a layup with 20 seconds left to put New York ahead by four points and for good.

"We kind of relaxed in the third quarter, we always do," Parker said. "We waited until too late to start to fight."

The Sparks made only two field goals in the fourth quarter.

"I take full responsibility for this loss, because I had a lot of shots right there in the paint that I just missed," Leslie said. "Fatigue was definitely a factor."

In the second half, four successive fouls by the Sparks gave the Liberty an opportunity, and New York took advantage.

With Leslie on the bench after picking up her third foul, the Liberty went on an eight-point run and took a 47-41 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

"Down the stretch we didn't box out. Rebounding is going to be a key for us, and if you don't box out and rebound, you're not going to win many games," Cooper said.

The Sparks took a one-point lead on guard Shannon Bobbitt's free throws, but Liberty forward Ashley Battle's last-second jumper gave the Liberty a 51-50 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The Sparks made only one field goal in the first 5:29 of the fourth quarter and the Liberty used a 10-2 run to take a 61-52 lead with 5:49 left.

"We just really need to be able to rebound the basketball and give us more opportunities on the offensive end," Lennox said. "I think that was key."


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