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Breanna Stewart restates her MVP credentials as Sparks fall to Storm on final shot

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Highlights from the Sparks’ loss to the Seattle Storm on Friday.

Voting for individual awards is no science, but to Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, it can be simple.

“You look at MVP as someone who is on one of the top teams in the league,” the 2018 WNBA most valuable player said Friday. “The best team has the best player.”

By virtue of a 90-89 win over the Sparks on Friday, the Storm (15-3) remain the best team in the league, with Stewart, the team’s do-it-all forward, as a front-runner for her second MVP award.

In a clash with MVP candidates Friday, Sparks forward Candace Parker dominated the scoreboard with 25 points, but Stewart’s near-triple-double of 20 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, and a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jewell Loyd stole the all-important victory.

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Though individual statistics can support an MVP candidacy, wins seem to be the most valuable factors in recent seasons.

The previous four MVPs — the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike in 2016, Minnesota center Sylvia Fowles in 2017, Stewart in 2018 and Mystics star Elena Delle Donne in 2019 — all claimed the award while also winning WNBA championships in those seasons.

“I don’t think it’s by accident that that happens,” Parker said on Aug. 25. “In no way shape or form are we going for it, but we gotta play good basketball and I myself realize that the best players have to step up.”

In a battle for first place in the league Friday, the stars delivered. Stewart, who missed the 2019 season because of a torn Achilles, nearly provided the league’s 10th triple-double in history. Parker poured in 17 points in the first half and finished with a season-high scoring total, along with seven rebounds and six assists, but the Sparks (13-4) fell to third in the league when Loyd scored the final three of her 25 points at the buzzer.

Now in her 13th season, Parker immediately showed a “different level of intensity and focus” upon arriving in Bradenton, Fla., guard Sydney Wiese said.

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Parker, along with her peers, had sacrificed so much to play this season. For Parker, it took adjustments to her offseason job as an NBA analyst for Turner, which she continues to do remotely, and her routine with her 11-year-old daughter Lailaa, who has joined her mother in the bubble.

The Lakers struggle to break free from the Houston Rockets’ stifling defense in a 112-97 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Friday.

“She’s on a mission,” Wiese said.

Parker, whose league-leading 9.4 rebounds per game entering Friday’s games also make her a contender for defensive player of the year, is competing with a star-studded list of MVP candidates. They include Stewart, who averaged 19.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists before Friday, Las Vegas Ace center A’ja Wilson, who leads the Aces (13-4), is second in the league in scoring and blocks and seventh in rebounding, and Chicago Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot. Vandersloot, who set the WNBA record for single-game assists with 18 this week, led the league in assists with 9.5 per game entering Friday’s games. The next closest player had 5.6.

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Naming an MVP is a toss-up every year, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said. There will always be snubs. But for Parker, who doesn’t shy away from the fact that she has more games behind her than in front of her during her career, remains set on adding a different accolade to her resume.

“She’s more focused on the silver trophy at the end of it than the MVP award in the middle,” Fisher said. “If she can get both, great, but I know for sure there’s one of them that she wants really badly.”


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