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.”
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.
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.”