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Sparks' struggles don't tell the whole story

Even though they are winless, the Los Angeles Sparks are showing tons of growth -- and could be a dangerous team later on in the season.

Photo by Ray Floriani

New York City - A trap game implies an air of disrespect. In that scenario, a team faces someone it is expected to beat as a more challenging foe awaits shortly down the road. On Sunday, the New York Liberty were lined up in what some considered the proverbial ‘trap' game.

Visiting the Garden was the winless Los Angeles Sparks. A few days later New York would hit the Windy City to face the mighty Chicago Sky. The contest on Sunday had all the ingredients of the trap game.

Fueled by Sugar Rodgers team leading 23 points and solid defense, the Liberty pulled out a tough 79-70 victory over the Sparks. Coach Bill Laimbeer was the first to admit his staff and players had the utmost respect going into this one. Forget the ‘trap' scenario, the Sparks not the timing of the game, were the concern.

"They (LA) have had double-digit leads in about five of their games," Laimbeer said. "They get off to really good starts but have difficulty sustaining (the lead). They simply run out of gas. This is a trend that has been in every game.

"You know as they are searching for that first win they will (figuratively)  scratch and claw for that victory."

The injury woes have been the primary enemy of the Sparks. They dressed eight players for the Liberty game. It got to the point that LA gave rookie Andrea Hoover out of Dayton, her first start in Connecticut.

Hoover responded with 17 points but injured her left ankle and was inactive two days later in New York. The injury list also includes Frahiya Abdi (left knee), Alana Beard (left foot), Erin Phillips (right knee).

The Liberty staff prepared with diligent attention to detail. Club President  Isaiah Thomas was even sent to Connecticut two days prior to scout the Sparks in their game with the Sun. A game LA dropped in overtime.

As strengths and weaknesses of the opposition were discussed and broken down, the Liberty players were admonished: Forget the won-lost record and focus on what this team can do and above all, be ready!

In a close contest featuring five ties and a lead change, the two teams were tied late in the game. The Liberty maintained momentum never relinquishing the lead and executed those crucial last few minutes to seal the verdict before the 8,926 in attendance.

"This (LA) is a team that when they get healthy are going to be heard from," Laimbeer predicted with confident certainty. "They have a lot of talent and in the West they will be a factor. On our behalf, I am glad we were able to get them at this point of the schedule."

LA showed some of that talent with guard Kristi Toliver connecting for a game-high 30 points. Inside, Jantel Lavender contributed 14 points while Nneka Ogwumike had a double-double, 13 points, and 16 rebounds. On the bench, Brian Agler represents one of the best mentors on a WNBA sideline.

"It has been tough on Brian," Laimbeer said. "They just do not have depth right now," Laimbeer noted the Sparks are fast starters but as mentioned, struggle to sustain.

They trailed New York 23-22 after one-quarter but already had a 129 offensive efficiency. For the game, their OE was 96. "We wanted to keep pressuring them on offense and defense and gradually wear them down." To LA's credit, they were right there until the final minutes.

"It was not easy," said Kiah Stokes of the Liberty. "They (LA) gave us a tough game today."