YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Sparks renew playoff push

WNBA gets back to action after Olympic break and L.A. aims to reach the postseason.

August 28, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Meanwhile, back in the WNBA . . .

As the league tries to re-build momentum after the Olympic hiatus, a few dormant questions have sprung back to life.

Who will emerge atop the Eastern Conference, where the New York Liberty and Detroit Shock trail first-place Connecticut by half a game with 2 1/2 weeks remaining? Can the San Antonio Silver Stars continue to hold off injury-riddled Seattle in the West?

And what about the Sparks? Will they begin playing like the front-runners many envisioned, or continue to cement themselves as one of the league's all-time biggest underachievers? Penny Toler, general manager of the Sparks, believes she has the answer to the final question.

"This team will make the playoffs," she said.

The Sparks, a preseason pick by a majority of general managers to win the WNBA title, find themselves in the middle of a jam-packed Western Conference, where all seven teams remain in the hunt for one of four playoff berths.

With seven games left, six against conference rivals, the Sparks (15-12) are tied for third place with Sacramento, their opponent tonight at Staples Center. "We're about to be in a dogfight," Toler said.

The Sparks appear to have the toughest remaining schedule, including two games against San Antonio (18-9) and another against Seattle (17-9), although the Storm will be without defending most valuable player Lauren Jackson, who is scheduled to undergo ankle surgery.

The biggest hurdle could be fatigue. The Sparks were the only team to send three players to the Beijing Olympics, where the team's front line of Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones helped the U.S. win gold last weekend. Leslie turned 36 this summer, Parker has been playing non-stop for the last 12 months -- the last five with a separated shoulder -- and Milton-Jones is dealing with a bothersome Achilles tendon.

"We've just got to keep moving," Leslie said.

The Sparks won 10 of their first 13 games. Leslie quickly reverted to form after sitting out last season to have a baby, and Parker made an impressive rookie debut, nearly compiling a triple-double in her first game and later joining Leslie as the only player to dunk in a WNBA game.

However, in late June against visiting Washington, the Sparks blew a seven-point lead in the last 33 seconds and lost in overtime, 77-74. The Sparks tumbled to a 5-8 record over the next month.

Sparks Coach Michael Cooper spent much of the Olympic break working the supporting cast into shape. They went through a series of strenuous practices, and several players are noticeably thinner.

"A lot of players are hurting now, but you can see their body's changing and they're toning up and getting in better basketball shape," Cooper said.

The Sparks did suffer one setback during the break. Christi Thomas, a reserve forward, injured her left knee and had season-ending surgery last week. To fill her spot, the Sparks signed 7-foot-2 center Margo Dydek of Poland, a 10-year WNBA veteran who gave birth to her first child in April.

"If we want to get to the playoffs and we want to go further than that and win the championship, it's all on us," Cooper said



vs. Sacramento, 7:30, FSN Prime

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 1150.

Records -- Sparks (15-12); Monarchs (15-12).

Update -- The Monarchs will be without starting forward Rebekkah Brunson, who scored a game-high 16 points in a 74-66 loss to the Sparks in mid-June. Brunson had arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 6 and has not been cleared for practice.


Los Angeles Times Articles