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Sparks Are Facing Early Elimination

If they lose tonight's home game to Minnesota, their two-year WNBA championship reign will end. It's uncertain whether Teasley will play.

August 30, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

The Sparks have endured more than their share of adversity this season, from their starters' injuries to former teammates leaving under clouded circumstances.

Tonight they will face the potential end of their reign as WNBA champions.

Thursday's loss to Minnesota in the opening game of the Western Conference first-round, best-of-three series has left the Sparks in a must-win situation. If they don't win Game 2 tonight at Staples Center, they will be eliminated. If they do win, the deciding Game 3 would be Monday in L.A.

Coach Michael Cooper gave the team a break Friday, using most of practice for a film session on Thursday's 74-72 defeat. According to Tamecka Dixon, that was more punishing than running laps around Staples Center.

"We mainly saw the second half, and it was hard to watch," Dixon said. "We felt like we gave the game away."

Or Minnesota, which had trailed early in the second half, 53-32, took it from them. Among the more painful reviews:

* The Sparks had 12 of their 16 turnovers in the second half.

* Minnesota made 14 of 26 shots in the final 20 minutes.

* The Sparks, 21 for 31 in the first half, made only eight of 25 shots in the second.

The Sparks won't know until game time if they will be short-handed. Point guard Nikki Teasley injured her left knee in the first half Thursday and did not return. At the time, the injury was diagnosed as a deep bone bruise and trainer Sandee Teruya said there did not appear to be ligament damage.

Teasley was scheduled to undergo a MRI examination Friday afternoon, and Cooper will want to see Teasley move around during pregame warmups before playing her.

Shaquala Williams, who missed most of the game after taking an elbow in her left jaw, is expected to be ready tonight. If Teasley is unable to play, Williams, Dixon and Nicky McCrimmon will probably share time at the point.

Teasley's absence was especially felt when, with 13 minutes left, Minnesota started pressing and trapping all over the court, as much to speed up the game as to disrupt the Sparks' scheme, which consisted mainly of working the ball inside to Lisa Leslie. It worked better than Lynx Coach Suzie McConnell Serio expected.

"Even if Teasley was there, we would have tried to disrupt the tempo," McConnell Serio said. "But [her absence] was a huge factor in our success."

Dixon said that, along with being prepared for more full-court pressure by Minnesota, the Sparks had to do a better defensive job on Lynx power forward Tamika Williams as well as the Minnesota reserves, who outscored the Sparks' reserves, 14-2.

"We got hurt by Tamika Williams," Dixon said. "She's not the same kind of scoring threat Katie Smith is. For her to get 16, and their points off the bench, that really hurt us."

Williams said the Lynx didn't expect the Sparks to feel tight or pressured.

"When you face L.A., you face experienced all-star players who have been there and done that," she said.

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