MINNEAPOLIS, MN.—Two-time MVP, Candace Parker, was finally in the line-up Wednesday night for the Los Angeles Sparks, but the outcome was still the same for the team with the worst record in the WNBA.
The Minnesota Lynx took advantage of 22 Sparks turnovers to score 21 points. Veterans Maya Moore and Lindsey Whalen scored the final 12 points of the game for their squad to seal a 82-76 win in front of a rowdy crowd at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Fans were excited to see their own WNBA debut from center Sylvia Fowles for the Lynx after Minnesota traded for her just three days ago. She played 26 minutes and scored 11 points with five rebounds.
The Sparks shot 56.4 percent (31-for-55) from the floor, marking the highest field goal percentage allowed by Minnesota in a win and the seventh highest overall, but, Moore scored 27 points and Whalen had 24 for Minnesota (13-4), who avoided losing back-to-back home games for the first time since 2013.
Los Angeles (3-14), lost its eighth straight on the road.
Western Conference All-Star Jantel Lavender had 15 points and 10 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season. Guards Kristi Toliver and Ana Dabovic both scored 14 points, and Parker, who rested during the first half of the season, had 12 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists in her season debut.
“I just treated it like I treated any other game,” Parker said. “Obviously a little bit more excited, it was a little bit tougher to take a pregame nap, but I’m excited to be back. It wasn’t the outcome we expected, but we can build off this.”
Wednesday’s loss was the first of three road games in five days for the Sparks, who are still looking for their first road win of the 2015 WNBA season.
Parker’s second game of the season will be played in her home state when the Sparks take on Elena Delle Donne, Cappie Pondexter and the rest of the Chicago Sky on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. CT.
The Sparks will need to find a way to execute down the stretch and take care of the basketball, which are two things Los Angeles has not done well all season long.
Luckily for first-year Sparks head coach Brian Agler, his 2015 roster is finally set. Seventeen games into the season, Agler was able to begin a game with the starting line-up he spent all off-season envisioning for his squad after announcing he would be the new head coach in Los Angeles in January.
Unfortunately, he was dealt with news that Parker would miss a huge chunk of the season to rest from the grind of playing year-round in the WNBA and overseas. He later discovered that Toliver, a 2013 WNBA All-Star, would miss all of training camp and the first six games of the season because of overseas obligations with the Slovakian National Team.
Dabovic, a Serbian guard, played in the same tournament as Toliver, but ended up leading her National Team to a European championship and an automatic birth into the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil next summer, but missed 10 games in the process of her rookie season in L.A.
Injuries soon took its toll on the rest of the Sparks premier players as the season began. Three-time WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogumike missed the first four games of the season because of an ankle injury and former Duke All-American Alana Beard played in her first game on Wednesday since June 14 after missing 14 games with a foot injury.
Third-year player Farhiya Abdi suited up in Minneapolis for just the sixth time this season after missing 11 games because of a knee injury and the Lynx game marked just the second time this season rookie guard Crystal Bradford has been activated to play. Bradford was the seventh pick overall by the Sparks in the 2015 WNBA Draft.
Adjusting to all the roster changes has not been easy, but believe it or not, the Sparks still believe they can win enough games to secure a spot in the playoffs.
“We had a couple of really good practices before we got here. It’s really just all about competing and executing,” Toliver said. “It’s a little difficult when you have new pieces coming back in and out. It’s a good thing that we have healthy bodies again but it’s also a little bit of a struggle to reincorporate people and to build that chemistry, so it’s a matter of finding the balance and building it quickly.”
The consensus around the league is that the Sparks at full strength are a team to be reckoned with. With that being said, though, a healthy Los Angeles team has to find a way to start getting wins.
Although it seems nearly impossible at this point to catch up to the first-place Lynx in the Western Conference standings. The Sparks are only two games behind the Seattle Storm and just three games behind the San Antonio Stars for the last and final playoff spot.
In the midst of what seems like an unreachable task, Agler is telling his new-look squad to take the rest of the season just one game at a time.
“We’ll absorb this, we’ll think about it and watch the game and then we will start prepping for Chicago,” Agler said. “We are right there. We just need to forget the past and not look too far ahead to the future. We’ll approach the rest of this season one step at a time.”