The Sparks notched their fourth consecutive win Friday night in convincing fashion, holding off a determined Phoenix Mercury squad 90-74, behind four players in double figures.
Rookie Nnemkadi Ogwumike lead the way with her first WNBA double-double: 25 points and 12 rebounds. Candace Parker had 23 points and 10 boards – her fourth straight double-double. Delisha Milton-Jones added 21 points and Kristi Toliver, 14.
Charde Houston paced the short-handed Mercury with 22 points, while DeWanna Bonner contributed 18 and Candice Dupree put up 13.
Los Angeles got off to a strong start and had built their lead to 43-28 at halftime. But Phoenix outscored the host team in the third quarter, 29-23, behind Houston’s 10 points. Bonner continued the assault in the last period, erupting for three consecutive three-point shots, to cut the Sparks’ lead to 73-66.
But Parker and Milton-Jones took over, each hitting shots to ignite an LA run to close out the win.
The Sparks, 6-1, are off to their best start since 2003. The Mercury, 2-5, are struggling without forward Diana Taurasi, who is out with a strained hip flexor, and Penny Taylor, who tore her ACL in the off-season.
Sparks Coach Carol Ross said her team is still developing.
“We lost our focus, she said. “You have to give credit to Phoenix – they knocked down shots. We had a mental lapse. We got to be able to get that killer instinct and not have those moments, but we’re a work in progress.”
Milton-Jones echoed her thoughts.
“There’s a different energy to this team, a different type of identity,” she said. “I feel like our intensity level on the defensive end is more consistent, and as a result, we win games. Whether we win by a few points, or like tonight, a win is a win, and we’ll take it. We’re growing as we go.”
Ogwumike said the team’s chemistry both on and off the court shows in games.
“We understand each other and we don’t get down on each other – we really encourage each other, and I think everything’s really meshing,” she said.
Ross acknowledged that the growing dynamic between Parker, Milton-Jones and Ogwumike is a beneficial one for the Sparks.
“Any time you’ve got talented and competitive people, good things are going to happen,” she said. “You can envision, but it’s nice to see it. They’re doing it consistently. It is always fun to watch.”
Mercury Coach Corey Gaines said he was dissatisfied with his team’s effort.
“LA is a good team,” he said. “But we’re not executing, we’re not doing the little things we need to do like box out, rebound. ”
He acknowledged that playing without Taurasi and Taylor was difficult.
“It’s like driving a car with two wheels,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines. “Does that make sense? It’s kind of hard. I don’t know what you can do.”
The game also marked the LA debut of Coco Miller, who signed with the team Friday. She replaces Sharnee’ Zoll, who will miss the season after tearing her ACL in training camp. Miller, who played under then-assistant coach Ross for the Altanta Dream, said her first few days with the Sparks have been good.
“I’m trying to take everything in – learn the plays, learn the players,” Miller said. “It helps to have Coach Ross here since I played for her in Atlanta. I’m just trying to contribute, and I’m happy to be here.”
Sparks guard Alana Beard did not play Friday night, after sustaining a pulled hamstring in practice this week. Ross said Beard would be going on the team’s three-game road trip this week, and she hoped the veteran would be able to step back into the starting lineup.
LA’s road trip begins Wednesday, in Connecticut, and continues Friday in Atlanta.