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Lavender steps up in Sparks win

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Los Angeles Sparks continued their successful East Coast road trip with a resounding 85-67 win at the New York Liberty. Jantel Lavender led the Sparks off the bench with 18 points and eight rebounds. Kristi Toliver added 16 points; Lindsey Harding and Candace Parker had 12 each. Cappie Pondexter led New York with 22 points. For clangs, bounces, rebounds, quick passes, that jerk in the corner, milkshakes in the yard, and rookies, join your intrepid and weary blogger after the jump.

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1:00 games sound very good in principle, except when you live two hours from the arena and like to get to the game when the gates open. Then you're leaving at ten in the morning and swearing profusely at all things transit related.

Friends or acquaintances or something of Candace Parker were in the building, so she spent a lot of time chatting with them. Everyone came up to her for autographs and pictures while she was talking. She multi-tasked well. I missed out on getting her autograph, but that's because I didn't want to interrupt her conversation and she was already done with our side by the time she escaped the conversation.

Penny Toler seems to have tamed the thing on her head, so that it looks like hair instead of two dead tribbles tied together. I guess that's an improvement.

The hat is complete! Well, until Chucky's seven-day contract runs out and Bill brings in another temp. Cappie was actually somewhat less than surly about it! And here I thought she was as much of a morning person as I am.

The pregame dance crew wasn't bad. I've definitely seen worse.

Sparse crowd so far, but we do have nineteen minutes to go before tip, and PATH is borked for construction. Judgment will be withheld until further notice. The ones that are drifting in seem to be curiosity seekers, for the most part. Sigh. And entirely too many people cheering for LA, even if you factor in Carol Ross's posse in their purple sparkled boas and tiaras.

Props to the lady in the Toni Young jersey. Money where your mouth is, indeed.

Fantastic anthem. Two trumpets, and I was ready for the game to start as soon as they were done, it was that stirring.

One of these days we're going to get a delay of game for the prolonged pre-tip nonsense. I think we need to lay off one of the routines, and as fun as Leilani Mitchell in a leopard-print pimp hat is, I'll give that up before I give up Maddie on the logo.

The good news: the hustle is back for the Liberty. The bad news: no one on this team can shoot today. The Sparks look very slick and very fancy, and they're shooting much better than we are- but they're also being very sloppy with the ball.

Yes, I know I was on Jeopardy!, but please don't hug me, person I only know through four degrees of separation.

Substitute announcer has consistently had issues with Ogwumike and Alana Beard. Sir, her name is not Amanda or Alanna. Did no one hand you a pronunciation guide?

Whoever this jerkface is trying to get a defense chant going when the Liberty have the ball, I hope no one finds out who he is without security being around.

Say what you will about the "Three to See", this game has attracted more casual fans and curiosity seekers than Chicago or Tulsa did. To be fair, Tulsa was a night game.

I'm pretty sure the Liberty are buying replica jerseys off the website for their temps. Chucky's jersey looks cheap, and we all know the issues about Prahalis's jerseys. I do not think I approve of this message.

The Sparks really are a Hollywood team. When they're on, they look real pretty. When they're off, you can see what's behind the scenery.

Both assistants were working with Farhiya Abdi pretty intensely before this game (and before the Connecticut game) and it was clear why- she's got a basketball body, and she looks like she should have all the moves, but then she'll dribble the ball off her knee and have to fumble to grab it. She missed her first easy opportunity by passing back out, but capitalized the next time. Jenna O'Hea made herself no friends by converting the fast break lay-up with three seconds left in a blowout game. I keep expecting her to go for threes, but the Sparks really seem to be using her more to set picks and move the ball around. I'm surprised. Then again, Marissa Coleman's shot looked like it was falling again, so maybe they didn't need offense from O'Hea so much as they needed someone who wasn't inclined to make dumb mistakes. Coleman held her own with Cappie all up in her business. Jantel Lavender put in work, and they needed her to put in work, with the foul trouble that Nneka Ogwumike got into in the first half. Her teammates did a great job of finding her down low, and she was able to make room both for them and for herself by extending her range to the midrange J. A'dia Mathies played briefly at the end of the game, and drove as fearlessly as she did back at Kentucky. Ebony Hoffman threw her weight around on the inside and showed off her outside shot, though not her outside shot-making so much.

Candace Parker was a force to be reckoned with in the paint on defense. Her hands were up and all over everything. I think there were at least two Liberty possessions where the idea of going into the lane was erased as surely as if Big Syl or Brittney Griner lurked around the rim. She had a lot of trouble getting clean shots, and a lot of the ones she did get rimmed out or went off the glass. She got to the line and didn't seem frazzled. Well, except for the play where she stayed tangled up with Kara Braxton like she was either trying to get a foul or start a fight (and really, starting a fight with someone who goes toe to toe with a lineman on a regular basis is just stupid, Ace). Nneka Ogwumike got in foul trouble very early in the first quarter and again in the second quarter, and never really got an opportunity to establish herself (granted, with Lavender, they didn't need Ogwumike to establish herself). Alana Beard, despite occasional attacks of being called Alanna or Amanda, was solid on both ends of the floor. Kristi Toliver (from "Marlyan", according to today's roster card; well, we always knew Maryland had no D...) showed off the ice water in her veins, hitting shots when the Sparks needed them. For a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, she moves pretty fast. (I think she'd be Raphael. Maybe Michelangelo, but she seems more mouthy and less goofy. Coleman, on the other hand, strikes me more as a Donatello, or even a Venus.) (Yes, I went there. Maryland's band plays the theme as an alternate fight song. It's totally acceptable.) Lindsey Harding's court vision was on point. She did a great job finding her teammates, and an equally good job driving the lane to create opportunities for herself. When she's on, she's really pretty to watch.

I loved Coleman's baseline find of Lavender rolling to the basket. But the prettiest set of plays was the series of quick touch passes that led to Candace Parker scoring on the inside- granted, it was on the third shot, which is why it won't end up on the highlight reel. Parker's thorough block of Cappie looking for her own highlight reel moment might, though. The word "pwned" was thrown around on that one.

O HAI Chucky Jeffery! You can totally stick around if you want to, with your awfully nice handwriting and your ability to play the passing lanes quickly. If she's serious about playing in the WNBA, she's going to have to bulk up, because while she's not in DeWanna Bonner territory, she's awfully thin. She's going to have to work on her shooting, too. But I love her motor and her nose for the ball. Kelsey Bone looked more interested in playing volleyball than basketball today- lots of batted balls, not enough firm rebounds, and really lousy ballhandling. I do expect her to be able to catch passes, but even that was lacking today. Toni Young showed a little bit of a jump shot and had a really nice rebound, but was no match for the Sparks' interior presence. Leilani Mitchell got the extended minutes we were looking for, but the halfcourt heave didn't go down (and since we usually lose when she hits it, I was okay with that). She did well enough staying on Toliver. Alex Montgomery's shot abandoned the building, and I think she was a little tentative after the first couple didn't go down. Talk about a streak shooter. But she was rebounding and defending and going for loose balls as she always does.

Given the early hour of this game, and the fact that yesterday was Friday night, I'm assuming Kara Braxton showed up to this game either drunk or hung over. There's no excuse for her to be missing the shots she was missing today, not even the usual excuse that she's Kara Braxton and can thus be expected to suffer from frequent and recurring cases of rectocranial inversion. Rebounds fell into her hands, and at least she had the presence of mind to grab them, for the most part. Katie Smith could not stick with Toliver for love nor money, and she managed to blow the lay-up on a two-man breakaway. Her shot reappeared in the second half, but overall, she looked thoroughly done- and more, like she was frustrated at the situation. She committed some very stupid fouls for no good reason, and could easily have been called for one or two more (why are you trying to hip-check Ebony Hoffman, why do you think this is a good idea?) Kamiko Williams was bringing it on defense, but we can't continue to have her in the starting lineup if Katie is also not contributing. Plenette Pierson's jumpers kept rimming out, and her passing was not as sharp as it was against Washington- but then again, the Sparks did a better job of playing the passing lanes than the Mystics did. Cappie Pondexter brought it on offense in the second and third quarters, and she was trying to keep the team in the game as much as she could, but one woman can no longer do it alone in this league. We just could not shoot today.

I know it's hard to believe, but I'm not frothing at the mouth and furious at another blowout loss. Until the fourth quarter, when it was clearly garbage time, the fire and intensity that were sorely missing in the last few games were back. We were fighting for boards, we were driving the lane, we were getting down on defense. The Sparks' passing attack was very good, and we just could not get anything to drop.

Officiating missed a couple of entanglements, but I can't complain overall. Do try not to act so surprised.

Missed the tae kwan do demonstration at halftime, but that's okay. Missed the season subscriber coasters, but the poor unlucky wretch assigned to our account was quick to reassure us that they'd be available for the rest of the season. Relax, Melissa, we don't bite. Much.

Even at 20% off, I'm not buying a jersey. Sorry.

I'm disappointed, but not frustrated. Or maybe it's frustrated, but not disappointed. We played decently enough. If we make the playoffs, we make the playoffs. If we don't make the playoffs, we get a lottery pick. It is what it is.