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    Sparks dominated by short-handed Lynx, lose for 10th time in past 11 games
    • July 10, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — Despite coach Curt Miller’s warning, the Sparks seemingly came out flat energy-wise, struggled offensively and quickly trailed by double digits in the first quarter on Tuesday night. They fought back, pulling within five points of the Minnesota Lynx in the second quarter but the comeback was not sustainable. It was too little too late.

    The Sparks trailed by as much as 25 points in the third quarter and suffered an 82-67 loss to the short-handed Lynx at Crypto.com Arena.

    “A game where we were outplayed, outcoached,” Miller said. “Again, this is why Minnesota is one of the top three teams in the league right now.

    “The question is why did it take taking a haymaker in that first quarter to respond when all we’ve talked about is their execution, their physicality?”

    Sparks All-Star forward Dearica Hamby had a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes, but she was the only Spark who scored in double figures.

    “For me, it’s leading by example,” Hamby said. “I have to start with a toughness and physicality from the start of the game. As a pro, you 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 so being more intentional.”

    The Sparks (5-17) have lost 10 of their last 11 games and dropped to 0-3 against the Lynx (16-6) this season. The Sparks, who had 20 turnovers and never led in the game, will close the 40-game regular season in Minnesota on Sept. 19.

    Bridget Carleton scored 16 points and Dorka Juhasz added 15 for Minnesota, which played without injured MVP candidate Napheesa Collier, the team’s leading scorer (20 ppg) and rebounder (10.2 ppg). The Lynx have won their past seven games at Crypto.com Arena and 13 of their last 14 meetings with the Sparks overall.

    “Our margin is small and so you can’t be worrying about effort and energy in games when we need to spend our time more on schemes in what we’re going to do offensively and defensively,” Miller said before the game.

    However, the Sparks did not heed Miller’s message early and trailed 29-16 at the end of the first. Minnesota took control early by making 11 of its first 16 shots (with points from nine players), while the Sparks shot 3 for 12 from the field.

    “That’s what they do to everybody and that’s how good their execution and tempo is,” Miller said. “I’m not sure we were ready for the physicality and fight and as much as you preach it they have to have the desire when they walk out there. They just didn’t have it (Tuesday night). It’s my job to pull it out of them and have them ready … they just outplayed us, they out-executed us and certainly you would have to say out-coached us because no matter how much we talked about it, they did what they were fearful of what they could do.”

    Hamby said even without Collier, Minnesota is a significantly more experienced team than the rebuilding Sparks.

    “Lack of experience,” Hamby said of the Sparks. “There’s a few players on this team that have won championships but overall in this league, there hasn’t been a ton of success, individually within our team.

    “Curt has had success. They’re giving us the game plan. He’s not perfect all the time, but we’re the five on the floor so we have to show up and the end of the day. He can only do so much and prep us so much. We have to start believing in ourselves, trusting ourselves and trust his plan.”

    The Sparks fared better in the second quarter. Hamby’s 3-pointer pulled her team within 37-32, but the Lynx responded with a 10-1 run to open a 47-33 advantage late, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by All-Star guard Kayla McBride and Team Canada Olympian Carleton.

    Carleton finished the night 4 for 4 from 3-point range as the Lynx shot 9 for 18 from behind the arc, while the Sparks were just 3 for 20.

    The Sparks trailed 51-35 at halftime and 70-51 at the end of the third quarter.

    “Toughness comes from believing in yourself … but also it’s just a passion and a heart thing,” Hamby said. “You can’t really teach that but I think once you start having confidence in yourself, it kind of translates. You want to be physical. You want to get up and show that you can defend. You want to do the extra things that we just don’t have that right now.”

    Second-year forward Juhász started in place of Collier (left foot) and had 11 of her 15 points in the first half. McBride and Lynx reserve guard Cecilia Zandalasini each had 11 points.

    For the first time this season, the Sparks starting lineup included center Azurá Stevens, who replaced the injured Stephanie Talbot (right foot), one of three players now sidelined including Cameron Brink (ACL) and Lexie Brown (Chron’s disease). Stevens finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in a season-high 28 minutes.

    “I feel good,” Stevens said. “It’s a condensed season so I’ve had reps in practice but we don’t really practice too much so I’m still getting used to the physicality of the game, incorporating my arm in that.

    “Obviously, I haven’t played in a few months so just getting my footing back and that type of stuff so that can be frustrating at times but I think it starts with us defensively. Offense is going to come and go, some nights you might not hit shots but defense is something that you can control, so that’s something that we’ve been trying to harp on and keep reiterating because we know that in order to win we’re going to have to stop teams regardless of if the ball is going in or not.”

    Stevens still believes her team can turn around the disappointing first half of the season and make the postseason for the first time since 2020.

    “We can still make a push for playoffs,” Stevens continued. “I know it doesn’t seem like that but we can. So much can change over the second half of the season.”

    Miller, who is 0-7 against the Lynx during his two seasons leading the Sparks, knew attacking Minnesota’s defense would take more than energy and effort.

    “Minnesota, analytically, is off the charts defensive,” Miller said. “They are not easy to play against. They are the number one team in my opinion right now in congesting the paint.”

    Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve knew she would need to count on her defense to beat the Sparks.

    “Like every road game we play, understanding that our defense is what gets us through the most difficult times of a home team’s runs, so try to limit the big runs because we’ll be locked in defensively. That is always our mindset,” Reeve said before the game.

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    SENSE OF PRIDE

    Reeve, a four-time WNBA champion (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017), explained how good it feels to witness the league’s growth.

    “This season has been record-setting and I’ve been in the league a long time since 2001,” she said. “We’ve gone from not being really welcomed in our own practice facility to being celebrated and the attendance. We’ve just seen a lot in 20-plus years so I’m thankful that I’m still here, that we’ve evolved just how we conduct our business. That we are treating it more like our male counterparts in terms of men’s sports, investing and we’re learning that when you do that, there’s a return on that investment just like there was for men. Just being here to see that, that’s really exciting for me and that’s not lost on me. Every once in a while I look around and I go I’m glad I’m still doing this at this time because it’s been a journey and this team gives me joy.”

    UP NEXT

    The Sparks will have Wednesday and Thursday off before practicing again on Friday ahead of Saturday’s road game against the Dallas Wings.

     

    ​ Orange County Register 

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