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Dearica Hamby scores her 3,000th point, but struggling Sparks fall to Minnesota Lynx

Sparks forward Azurá Stevens drives toward the basket against the Minnesota Lynx
Sparks foward Azurá Stevens (23) returned to the starting lineup Tuesday following arm surgery. The Sparks, however, lost to the Minnesota Lynx at Crypto.com Arena.
(Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
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Curt Miller urged his team to play with an all-or-nothing sentiment before the Sparks closed their four-game homestand Tuesday night.

“We have to leave it all out there,” he said before the game. “There’s nothing we should be saving in the tank tonight. We should lay it all on the line.”

But Miller’s plea for passion and intensity on the court didn’t translate to a victory.

Minnesota never trailed despite playing without potential most-valuable-player candidate Napheesa Collier for the second consecutive game. The Lynx led by 15 in the first quarter and as many as 25 overall, defeating the last-place Sparks 82-67 at Crypto.com Arena.

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“Obviously, a game where we were outplayed [and] outcoached,” Miller said. “And again, this is why Minnesota is one of the top three teams in the league right now — is their execution at the offensive end, their tempo, their screening [and] their physicality. It’s just really been impressive all year to watch against everybody, and you know, they’re stepping up without even their best player now.”

The Sparks (5-17) ended an eight-game losing streak last Friday by beating the Las Vegas Aces, but that has begun to resemble a blip on the radar rather than a change of course.

Despite a career-high 22 points from rookie Rickea Jackson and 25 points from Dearica Hamby, the Sparks can’t hold on in an 84-78 loss to Phoenix.

July 7, 2024

Dearica Hamby led all scorers with 18 points and reached 3,000 points for her career, but Minnesota (16-6) still claimed a victory over the Sparks for the third time this season.

Since becoming the Sparks’ coach last year, Miller has yet to beat the Lynx, having lost all seven matchups. Bridget Carleton led Minnesota with 16 points and Dorka Juhasz had a season-high 15 to help offset the loss of Collier, who is out indefinitely because of plantar fasciitis in her left foot.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve forced Miller to call two timeouts in the first quarter, which closed with the Sparks trailing 29-16 after three-pointers from Alissa Pili and Cecilia Zandalasin on back-to-back Minnesota possessions.

The Sparks shrunk the deficit to five points in the second quarter, but by the end of the half, despite shooting 42.9%, they were down 16. Midway through the third quarter, the advantage grew to 25.

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Hamby said as one of the veterans on the Sparks, she has to set an example for teammates by showing higher intensity from the opening tip to prevent quick deficits like Tuesday’s.

Dearica Hamby has already found success despite being relatively new to 3x3 basketball, having been named MVP of the 2023 3x3 AmeriCup.

June 26, 2024

“I got to start with the toughness and the physicality from the start of the game,” said Hamby, the Sparks’ leading scorer this season. “As a pro, you kind of learn yourself, but when you have to lead, I think I have to be more intentional about the tone that I set from the beginning. It may work for me, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everybody else.”

Sparks forward Azurá Stevens, who made her season debut Sunday in a loss to Phoenix, started for the first time since having left arm surgery in March. The seven-year veteran scored nine points with six rebounds. Stevens replaced Stephanie Talbot, who exited Sunday’s game because of an injury.

“I feel good,” Stevens said. ‘It’s a condensed season, so I’ve had reps in practice. … I’m still getting used to just the physicality of the game, incorporating my arm in that.”

The Sparks entered the game ranked third worst in the WNBA in turnovers (15.9 per game) and finished with 18, leading to 22 Minnesota points.

And while the Lynx shot 50% from beyond the arc, the Sparks struggled from long range — shooting three for 20.

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“We talked about the margin in here a lot between winning or losing for us,” Miller said. “Our margin is different than a bunch of teams in this league. And so you have to — every night — bring your toughness, your energy, your physicality.”

“And we got out-toughed. We got out-physicaled tonight.”

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