The Sparks no longer appear to be searching for answers. Quite the contrary, they seem to be creating all the problems.
A preseason pick to win the WNBA title but stuck in third place in the Western Conference after posting a 5-8 record in July, the Sparks matched their season high Monday night with their fourth consecutive victory, blowing past the Minnesota Lynx in the third quarter and maintaining the pressure into the fourth quarter of an 82-58 victory at Staples Center.
"We did everything that we've been working on over the Olympic break," Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. "We're on our way to becoming a world championship team."
The one-two punch of Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker also continued to live up to expectations, and the Sparks (18-12) also seem to have found an answer for their backcourt woes, with only four turnovers between point guards Shannon Bobbitt and Temeka Johnson.
Leslie, predicted by a majority of general managers to win the league's most valuable player award, finished with 20 points. She also blocked eight blocks for the second time in the last three games. Parker, predicted to be the league's rookie of the year, contributed 24 points and matched her season high with 16 rebounds.
"We're only as good as our last game," Leslie cautioned. "We just need to win all of our games, so we're trying to stay focused on doing that."
Next up for the Sparks is the Texas two-step Friday night in San Antonio and Saturday in Houston, where they can go a long way toward solidifying a playoff berth and maybe even jump back into the race for first in the Western Conference.
With the victory over the Lynx, the Sparks moved to within 1 1/2 games of first-place San Antonio and stretched their edge for the final playoff berth to three games over Minnesota (14-14) and Houston with four games to play.
The Sparks blew the game open in the third quarter.
After giving up the first six points, the Sparks held the Lynx without a field goal for nearly eight minutes. In the meantime, they strung together scoring runs of 11-0 and 9-0 to build a 57-44 lead.
"We turned it up a notch," Parker said. "It looked like there was nothing they could do."
During most of June and July, the Sparks blew a number of fourth-quarter leads, but Cooper focused on conditioning over the Olympic break, and it appears to be paying off.
"Our team is in great shape," Leslie said. "When we look around the league at some of the other players, they look like they've gained a little weight, some look a little thicker in the face, and we look great."
After failing to convert a field goal last game against San Antonio, Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones again struggled from the field, making just one of five shots, but she made her presence known on the defensive end, holding Minnesota's leading scorer, Seimone Augustus, to 13 points on five-for-13 shooting.