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ATLANTA 84, SPARKS 79

Atlanta rallies past Sparks

Lisa Leslie scores 24 points but blames herself as L.A. struggles with rebounding. ' . . . This is a game we gave away tonight,' Coach Michael Cooper says.

September 02, 2009|Mark Medina

Win or loss, the Sparks huddle together after each game at center court.

Following their 84-79 defeat to the Atlanta Dream in front of an announced 8,756 at Staples Center on Tuesday night, center Lisa Leslie provided a quick summation of what just happened.

"We got worked on the boards," she told the team.

Leslie led the team with 24 points, her eighth game in which she scored at least 20 points, but she blamed herself for the breakdown.

The Dream had 20 second-chance points and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. It's a recipe that helped neutralize an effective Sparks inside game that featured Tina Thompson scoring 19 points on eight-for-12 shooting and Candace Parker notching her seventh double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

"I was mainly a part of that," said Leslie, who had six rebounds. "I have to do a better job of boxing out. I tried a few different tactics, but it didn't work."

Although the Sparks (15-15) have won seven of their last nine games, they have lost two of their last three. With four games remaining, the Sparks are two games ahead of the San Antonio Silver Stars for the third playoff spot in the Western Conference and three games behind the Seattle Storm for the second seeding.

"We have to rebound from this," Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. "We're still in the thick of this. But this is a game we gave away tonight."

The Sparks led by as many as nine points and held a 69-65 lead with 5:13 remaining. Atlanta then went on a 7-0 run en route to a 72-69 edge with 2:38 left.

DeLisha Milton-Jones' jumper at the 2:18 mark narrowed the deficit to 72-71. But Dream guard Iziane Castro Marque made two three-pointers within 32 seconds as the Dream extended their advantage to 78-73 with 1:37 remaining. She scored 12 of her team-high 27 points in the last 2:38 of the game.

"When the game got tough, they took it to us," Cooper said. "We couldn't recover."

The Sparks lead the league in rebounding and are unaccustomed to games such as this. Cooper, a Laker in the Showtime era, often preaches what coach Pat Riley stressed: "No rebound, no ring."

With the Sparks hoping to make a playoff push, they plan on fixing that problem.

"There's no excuses," Leslie said. "We must do a better job of boxing out and be more physical and tough."

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mark.medina@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesmedina

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