Sparks need a formidable presence in the middle

The way DeLisha Milton-Jones sees it, it’s pretty simple what the Sparks need without Candace Parker in the lineup for the rest of the season.

“Someone who looks like Shaq,” Milton-Jones said.

Help soon could be on the way. Sparks Coach Jennifer Gillom said that the club is “looking for some free agents” and that she is particularly interested in acquiring free-agent center Courtney Paris.

“I really like the physicality of Courtney Paris,” Gillom said. “I think she could be a really big threat inside.”

As Friday’s game against Connecticut proved, the Sparks need help at center without Parker, who had taken on that role this season before reinjuring her dislocated shoulder and opting for surgery. Despite the efforts of veterans Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson to fill that void, the Sparks lost, 78-75.

“We really need a true center,” Milton-Jones said Monday after practice. “The players that we have are forwards. We need to find someone with girth, strength and height who can make their presence felt more than seen.”

The Sparks are 3-8 with a third of the season already gone.

Paris is nothing if not big and strong at 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds. She was an NCAA standout at Oklahoma, where she averaged 21.4 points and 15.3 rebounds per game, and was selected seventh overall by the Sacramento Monarchs in the 2009 draft. But she didn’t get much playing time in her rookie season and averaged only 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

When the Monarchs folded late last year, she was selected by the Chicago Sky in the dispersal draft. But with the All-Star frontcourt of Candice Dupree and Sylvia Fowles, Chicago had little room for Paris to get more playing time and waived her last month.

“We’ve got to get some wins,” Gillom said. “We’ve got to make some moves soon.”

‘Fight for your life’

Without Parker, Milton-Jones said the Sparks are like a “wounded animal.” That’s not because they’re weak, but because they’re imbued with a newfound urgency.

“When you have a premier player out,” Milton-Jones said, “you fight for your life.”

That’s what the team did for about three quarters against the Sun on Friday. It held a 16-point lead over the Sun in the third before the players had what Thompson said was a “complete mental lapse” and allowed Connecticut to go on a 22-5 run.

“We could have come into the game as though we don’t have Candace,” said Thompson, who didn’t participate in Monday’s practice because of sore Achilles’ tendons. “But I don’t think we did that at all.”

Thompson said the Sparks still believe they can compete with any team in the league.

“It’s just a matter of finishing and closing games,” Thompson said. “And that’s been our problem even when Candace was here.”