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Parker's debut a big success

She scores 34 points and has 12 rebounds in her first game to help the Sparks to a 99-94 victory over Phoenix.

May 18, 2008|From the Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Candace Parker had some jitters in her WNBA debut. It sure didn't show.

Parker scored 34 points, the most in a WNBA debut, and grabbed 12 rebounds to help the Sparks beat the defending champion Phoenix Mercury, 99-94, on Saturday.

The previous high in a WNBA debut was 25 points by Cynthia Cooper in 1997.

"It obviously was better than I expected," said the 6-foot-4 Parker, who led Tennessee to back-to-back national titles. "Coming out, I just wanted to play hard. I was a little nervous, and I think my teammates did a good job of just keeping me in it mentally and just not allowing me to get frustrated."

The score was tied, 79-79, early in the fourth quarter when Parker took over. She scored 10 points in a row to give the Sparks an 89-86 lead with 3:15 to play.

Parker, who made six of seven shots in the final quarter, made a short hook shot to put the Sparks up, 97-94, with 12 seconds to go.

"She's the money player," Coach Michael Cooper said. "Put the ball in her hands and she did what she's supposed to do."

Parker wore a brace on her left shoulder, which she dislocated during the NCAA tournament. It didn't slow her one bit.

Parker came within two assists of becoming the first WNBA rookie to record a triple-double. Only one NBA player did it in his debut -- Oscar Robertson in 1960.

"Honestly, it was just finding the mismatch," Parker said. "My teammates did a great job of just getting me the ball and just moving afterwards."

Lisa Leslie, who sat out last season on maternity leave, had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sparks.

Cappie Pondexter, fighting off jet lag, scored 32 points for Phoenix but missed a potential tying three-point shot with four seconds to play.

Pondexter arrived in Phoenix late Friday night after a long flight from Turkey, where she played during the WNBA off-season.

"She's what you call a trooper," Phoenix Coach Corey Gaines said. "She had 32. I can't wait until she gets a little sleep."

Before the game, the Mercury celebrated its 2007 WNBA championship with a ring ceremony and the unveiling of US Airways Center's lone basketball title banner.

Mercury star Diana Taurasi told the crowd of 13,749 that the Mercury aims to make it two in a row this season. But this is a different team.

Former coach Paul Westhead left after the season to join the Seattle SuperSonics' staff, although he returned for the ring ceremony. And star forward Penny Taylor is back in her native Australia preparing for the Beijing Olympics.

The Mercury broke to a 15-7 lead before the Sparks answered with a 10-0 run.

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L.A. debuts

Pro debuts of other great Los Angeles basketball rookies.

JERRY WEST, Oct. 19, 1960

Scored 20 points, but was outplayed by another Olympian making his pro debut, Oscar Robertson, in the Lakers' 140-123 loss to the Royals in Cincinnati.

MAGIC JOHNSON, Oct. 12, 1979

Scored 26 points to help the Lakers defeat the Clippers in San Diego, 103-102. After Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the winning hook shot at the buzzer, he had to remind the celebrating Johnson that there were still 81 games left in the regular season.

KOBE BRYANT, Nov. 3, 1996

Not much of an indication of what was to come: one missed shot, one rebound, one foul, one turnover, one blocked shot in six minutes of a 91-85 victory over Minnesota at the Forum.

LISA LESLIE, June 21, 1997

This was the pro debut for all concerned in the WNBA's inaugural game, which the Sparks lost to New York, 67-57, at the Forum. Leslie scored 16 points, but is best remembered for trying to make the league's first dunk on a breakaway -- . . . and leaving the ball hanging on the rim.

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