Sparks’ rally falls short in loss to Storm as familiar lineup isn’t enough

Just because the names are the same doesn’t mean the results will be for the Sparks.

Despite a starting lineup that stayed intact from the end of last season, the Sparks were doomed by another slow start Saturday as their fourth-quarter rally against the Seattle Storm fell short 81-75 in Bradenton, Fla.

The Storm, playing without point guard Sue Bird (rest), bounced back from a jarring 89-71 loss to the Washington Mystics to prove why they were the No. 1 team in the Associated Press preseason poll. The Sparks, who finished second in the poll, were reminded that winning a championship goes beyond just familiar big names.

“For our group this is basketball, but it really is just a competition,” coach Derek Fisher said. “And the team that really, really competes harder for more minutes in a game, they typically either win the game or definitely have a chance. I thought we came out trying to feel the game out and we didn’t compete right from the jump ball.”

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Seimone Augustus scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter to help the Sparks on a 16-2 run that cut a 17-point Storm lead to three. But after the veteran helped will the team to within striking distance, the Sparks (2-2) couldn’t finish the comeback. The Storm (3-1) sealed the win with a perfectly executed in-bounds pass with 24.1 seconds left from Alysha Clark to Ezi Magbegor.

The lapse was a product of early-season kinks, Fisher said, between a personnel group that was a mix of returners with Nneka Ogwumike, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Chelsea Gray and newcomers with Te’a Cooper and Brittney Sykes.

The Storm buried the Sparks from the start, getting out to a 14-1 lead. Breanna Stewart had 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada added 17 and 16, respectively.

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Candace Parker led the Sparks with 19 points and 12 rebounds, her second-consecutive double-double. Ogwumike had 14 points and seven rebounds, while guard Riquana Williams’ four-for-seven shooting from the three-point line for 16 points helped the Sparks keep pace.

Williams scored 11 points in the third quarter as the Sparks cut the 16-point halftime deficit to 10.

“For us, it’s a matter of a flick of a switch,” Ogwumike said. “It’s very mental for us. We’re playing against talented teams, so there’s no time to decide.

“We have to understand what it means to come out with a strong start and to really determine the energy of the game. And I think with new players on the team, we’re understanding that each day.”

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