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Sparks' New Streak Is No Source of Pride

June 20, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

The 9-0 start didn't fool the Sparks into feeling invincible. The games were too close, the defensive lapses and poor shooting too evident.

Los Angeles hasn't solved those problems. And now it has lost two in a row.

On Thursday it trailed by 18 points in the second half against Seattle before roaring back, only to lose to the Storm, 69-67, before 8,861 at Staples Center.

Seattle (5-4) moved into second place in the Western Conference, three games behind Los Angeles (9-2).

The Sparks may be sick of seeing suitcases, having already played seven road games. But it's probably a good thing they have to leave home again, traveling to Phoenix on Saturday, then Houston and San Antonio. Coach Michael Cooper will have no hometown distractions while working on his team's flaws.

"I was happy with the effort, but I would rather have lost by 25 than to come back and lose by two," Cooper said. "But we have to rectify the ship. Going 9-1 is contagious, but going 1-9 can also be contagious. We're on a two-game slide and we have to stop it."

A look at the statistics will tell the Sparks all they need to know.

Start with the shooting. The Sparks made only 37.1% of their shots from the field, with Mwadi Mabika (one of 10, six points), playing despite a sore knee, and Nikki Teasley (missing all six shots, one point) being the biggest offenders. Lisa Leslie's 21 points and Tamecka Dixon's 17 could not make up the difference.

Teasley spent the last 10 minutes on the bench as Cooper went with Sophia Witherspoon (10 points) and Shaquala Williams next to Dixon.

"My concern for Mabika is not her jumper -- that will come," Cooper said. "My concern is her defense, because we have to get things done defensively.

"We don't have any nights off. We have created our own monster by winning championships. We have to come to play every night, from the jump ball."

The Sparks' effort on the defensive end clearly was lacking.

The smallish (5-foot-7) guard Sandy Brondello had 21 points, making nine of 14 shots, including a 13-foot shot with 10.9 seconds to play that secured the victory.

Other Seattle starters in double figures were Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, each with 15, and Kamila Vodichkova, who had 14. Bird also equaled her career high in assists with 12, and at times looked as comfortable running the motion offense brought in by Coach Anne Donovan as she did running the triangle offense at Connecticut for Geno Auriemma.

"I think my teammates have a better idea now what I do," Bird said. "Basketball is not just knowing how to throw a pass but when to do it. And as a team we're coming together. I already knew Lauren and Kamila, but now Sandy is learning me."

The Storm broke open a close game in the first half when Bird began stretching the Spark defense.

Her instincts running Seattle's motion offense were unerring. When Bird wasn't throwing cross-court passes to Brondello for open jump shots, she consistently gauged the distance needed to throw the ball over the long arms of Leslie or Milton to set up easy inside chances for Jackson and Vodichkova.

Bird had seven assists in the first half as Seattle built a 42-32 lead. The margin would grow to 58-40 at the 14:15 mark before Los Angeles began its rally.

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