Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

It's a Record Night for Sparks, Leslie

WNBA: They beat Lynx, 78-69, for team-record 13th win in row. Center sets league's career scoring mark.

July 31, 2001|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sparks need the playoffs to start now, not in two weeks.

How much better can it get for the the WNBA's top team, which still has seven regular-season games left before it can get to the games that have the most meaning?

Before 8,637 at Staples Center on Monday night, Los Angeles notched its franchise-record 13th consecutive victory by defeating Minnesota, 78-69. The victory improves the Sparks' record to 22-3 and kept them a comfortable 5 1/2 games in front of Houston in the Western Conference, as well as 2 1/2 games ahead of Eastern leader Cleveland for the league's overall best record.

The victory was also the Sparks' 11th this season at home without a loss. Dating to last season, the Sparks have won 17 in a row at home.

"We are coming together at the right time," Spark Coach Michael Cooper said. "Looking at this team at the beginning of the season, we wanted to play well and win games. But even with that opening nine-game streak we weren't playing that well. And now things are hitting at the right time.

"I thought we executed our defense and our offense well tonight. I hope we don't peak too soon. But the scary part is, I think we can play better."

That's because the Sparks are still rolling even when missing some parts. Lisa Leslie sat out a game last Wednesday because of a hyperextended right knee. Tamecka Dixon has sat out the last two after aggravating her injured right heel.

"I just need some rest," said Dixon, who has not played or practiced in a week. "They tell me it's day to day. If they leave it up to me, I'll play on Thursday."

With her game-high 28 points, Leslie became the league's all-time leading scorer, passing Cynthia Cooper, who totaled 2,537 in her four years with Houston. Cooper now coaches the Phoenix Mercury.

Leslie's basket over Maylana Martin with 8:43 to play in the second half gave her the record. Fouled on the play, she milked the crowd's adoration for all of 15 seconds before stepping to the free-throw line to complete a three-point play.

"To be honest, I didn't know what they were cheering about," said a sheepish Leslie, who now has 2,546 career points. "Cynthia Cooper was probably the greatest WNBA player ever; to even be close to her is an honor.

"The record is great, but it's still about winning a championship. I feel we're going to be as tough in the playoffs as we are now. We're stronger mentally this season, and we find ways to win. There's a different feel to this team from the one that [lost last year in the conference finals]."

Leslie did most of her work in the second half, scoring 17 points. Mwadi Mabika--surprised with a cake from her teammates in the locker room afterward to commemorate her 25th birthday (which was actually July 27)--carried the Sparks in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 17 of her 23 points to help L.A., which led by as many as 16, to a 42-34 halftime lead.

While the offense was checkered at times--L.A. shot 43.5% for the game but only 29.4% from three-point range--the Sparks' defense was relentless. They wrapped up Lynx guard Katie Smith, the league's leading scorer, in a box-and-one defense, using DeLisha Milton to chase Smith from corner to corner where two other Spark defenders could trap her.

Smith, who scored a WNBA-record 46 points the last time she faced the Sparks on July 8, had only four points after the first half and 12 for the game, nearly 10 points below her average.

Minnesota (7-17) got 27 points from forward Svetlana Abrosimova, but not much else from its other players and skidded to its fifth consecutive loss.

"Obviously the Sparks made up their minds to take Katie out of the game and make someone else beat them," Lynx Coach Brian Agler said.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|