There's no question that Lisa Leslie played like a most valuable player during the regular season, although she won't know if she wins the WNBA's top award until next week.
But Leslie has to find that MVP form, and quickly, if the Sparks are going to extend the Western Conference finals.
In her four playoff games -- three against Seattle in the first round and Thursday's battle against Sacramento in the conference finals opener -- Leslie is averaging 13.3 points, nearly seven points below her regular-season average. She is making only 32% of her shots (16 of 50), a precipitous drop from the 51.1% she was shooting before the playoffs.
As usual, Leslie's being asked to do a lot for the Sparks. She leads them in minutes played (33.5), rebounding (8.0) and blocked shots (1.5). She is still the one player opponents say they must stop to beat the Sparks.
After Thursday's 64-61 loss in Sacramento, when she scored less than 10 points for the first time in these playoffs -- and went scoreless in the second half -- Leslie said she knew she could do better.
"I try to do the intangibles if it's not working for me offensively," Leslie said. "But I look to do better and help my team more in Game 2."
On Friday, after the team's practice at the Arrowhead Pond, Leslie said she wasn't pressing or trying too hard.
"I'm not that worried my numbers are down because my focus has not been more on offense but defense," Leslie said.
"The shots that I've missed are shots that I've taken all year. So it's not anything that doesn't happen to other people. I'm human; I'm not always going to have great games. But I can still help my team by moving the ball. And defensively I try to limit inside scoring."
Coach Joe Bryant shook his head when asked if Leslie was trying too hard to score.
"I think it's important that she play defense and rebound," Bryant said. "You're going to have good games and bad games as a scorer. And when you're a megastar, when things like that happen, it may look like you're pressing.
"We have to try and get her some easy shots. Now, without [Chamique] Holdsclaw, they can double- and triple-team Lisa. When she's not going well, other players have to step up. So far, Mwadi [Mabika] and Temeka [Johnson] have done that."
vs. Sacramento, 6, ESPN2
Site -- Arrowhead Pond.
Playoff record vs. Monarchs -- 0-1.
Update -- Women's professional basketball returns to the Anaheim venue for the first time since Feb. 27, 1998. That's when the Long Beach StingRays defeated the Portland Power, 72-62, in the ABL's Western Conference finals. Before joining the WNBA, Sacramento center Yolanda Griffith played for the StingRays. She is 3-0 in the Pond, with victories against the Power, New England Blizzard and the Colorado Xplosion. She averaged 21 points and 12.3 rebounds in the three games.
Tickets -- (213) 480-3232.