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    Sparks coach Curt Miller seeks intensity against Lynx
    • July 9, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — The Sparks have never beaten the Minnesota Lynx during Curt Miller’s tenure as the team’s head coach.

    The Sparks (5-16) are 0-2 against the Lynx this season, including an 86-62 blowout loss at home on June 5 and an 81-76 loss on the road on June 14. That road defeat was the second loss of the team’s recent eight-game losing streak. The Sparks lost all four games against the Lynx last season, leaving Miller 0-6 against them during his time in L.A.

    Sparks All-Star forward Dearica Hamby had a team-high 25 points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s 84-78 loss to the Phoenix Mercury. Hamby believes the Sparks must play with more poise against the Lynx on Tuesday night to close out the team’s four-game homestand with a win.

    “We talk about the composure at the end of the game or having slippage in one of the quarters to close out and it hurt us (Sunday night),” Hamby said.

    The Lynx (15-6) are coming off a 74-67 victory over the Washington Mystics on Sunday despite being without All-Star forward Napheesa Collier, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Collier had 30 points in the last outing against the Sparks.

    The Sparks have lost nine of their last 10 games, the only win being an overtime victory over the Las Vegas Aces last week.

    “I’m frustrated, not necessarily with wins and losses. I’m frustrated that we didn’t play like we’re capable of playing,” Miller said after Sunday’s setback. “I don’t think we played with the same spirit. I didn’t think we played with the same intensity.

    “I thought we were poor board to court (Sunday night). The focus. The number one thing that you realize as a coach when there’s a lack of focus is when you struggle coming out of a timeout. When you look them in the eye, you diagram something and they come out and they don’t know where they’re supposed to be or they don’t execute. That is a frustrating thing for a coach, you pride yourself on the ATO’s (after timeouts). If we don’t play better, if we play like we did (Sunday night), Minnesota will beat us by 20 plus easily. They are really really talented.”

    “What I’m more worried about is us playing to our standards and what we want to look like, and if we don’t do that Tuesday against the Minnesota team it will be a long night.”

    Sparks center Azurá Stevens made her season debut Sunday, after missing the team’s first 20 games while recovering from a left arm injury that required surgery.

    “I felt good,” Stevens said. “I tried not to really think about it. I’ve been practicing a little bit. I just tried to get in there and help my teammates and not force anything and take it play by play.”

    Stevens, a seven-year veteran, finished with 10 points, six rebounds, a career-high tying four assists, two steals and one blocked shot in Sunday’s six-point loss.

    “I think we have to have more pride on defense,” Stevens continued. “I’ve been talking about it. It’s just something we really have to work on. We’re not going to beat a lot of teams if we don’t get stops. I think being more aggressive on defense and really buying into that is going to help us.”

    Another impact player against the Mercury was second-year guard Zia Cooke, the team’s 2023 first-round pick. Cooke had five points and a team-high three steals in 14 minutes, including key playing time during a second-quarter run and down the stretch in the fourth.

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    “It felt good,” Cooke said. “That’s the object for me is always to be able to come and make some noise, whether it’s defensively or offensively. I just want to be a spark coming off the bench and helping out as much as I can.”

    Cooke said she knows what the Sparks’ coaching staff wants from her.

    “That’s what they want my role to be is a defensive stopper,” Cooke continued. “I come in the game, that’s the first thing I look for and also just for my own good, being a defensive stopper helps me on my offensive end. It makes it flow for me a little more.”

    Sparks starting forward Stephanie Talbot left Sunday’s game in the first half with a right foot injury and did not return. Stevens started the second half in Talbot’s place.

    LYNX (15-6) AT SPARKS (5-16)

    When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

    Where: Arena

    TV: Spectrum SportsNet

    ​ Orange County Register