s with 2:42 remaining after the stadium lights went oin
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We probably should have expected some turbulence for Los Angeles. The Sparks, on this seemingly endless road swing, lost two of three games before the Olympic break. Now they are 0-2 since the WNBA season resumed Friday. Cause for concern, of course. But theres no need to panic.The Sparks must take a critical look at what they did and didnt do in losses at Seattle on Friday and Phoenix on Sunday -- and then remind themselves what kind of team theyve previously established that they are this season.That is, a team that doesnt come apart at the seams at crunch time. Because there is actually lot of crunch time left.Los Angeles losses became the big story of the leagues re-start weekend. Both the WNBAs top two teams, the Sparks and Minnesota, fell in their first game back. The Lynx rebounded at Target Center on Sunday, holding off the scrambling-for-their-playoff-lives Storm 92-80.Minnesota had an off game from Maya Moore on Friday at Connecticut, as she scored just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. The Lynx also sent the Sun to the free throw line 27 times, and made just 1-of-8 3-point attempts in a 84-80 loss.Then Sunday against Seattle, the Lynx opened with an 11-0 run, but the Storm surged back to take a six-point lead at halftime. The Lynx re-took control of the game in the third quarter, though, and those 10 minutes -- in which Minnesota scored 32 points -- might be Exhibit A of why the defending champs are still the favorites to win the title this year.The Lynx moved the ball well and kept everyone involved in the offense. They gave themselves good looks, and shot 68.4 percent for the quarter. For the game, Lindsay Whalen led the Lynx with 24 points. Minnesota (22-5) just looked like a team that ultimately has the most ways of putting points on the board and getting big stops when needed, and has the most dependable cohesion.That Minnesota has been at or very close to the top of the list in all three of those qualities for six consecutive seasons is a testament to how well everyone in the organization has been doing their jobs for a lengthy stretch.By contrast, cohesion, in particular, has not been a strong suit historically for the Sparks.?It seemed as though this season marked a different kind of L.A. team, one that really did?have the ability to pull together no matter what was tugging at them to separate.Thats still the case, but this is where the Sparks have to prove it. Theyve dropped four of their last five, dating back to before the Olympic break. Theyre 21-5, and still in strong position for getting one of the two byes into the playoff semifinals. But the Sparks cant have too long of a skid, because New York -- at 19-8 -- is within striking distance in these final weeks of the regular season.The Sparks offense seemed vulnerable in both their losses this past weekend. In Fridays 79-72 loss at Seattle, they played from behind the whole game. Even holding the Storm to nine points in the second quarter wasnt enough for the Sparks to get the lead. By the time Los Angeles really kicked it into gear, with a 28-point fourth quarter, it wasnt enough.Then Sunday, Los Angeles fell 70-66 at Phoenix despite the Mercury shooting 38.6 percent. Turnovers hurt the Sparks both nights, especially Sunday when they had 21. There were times where Los Angeles looked too casual and careless with the ball, and other times that Phoenix was targeting Candace Parker with a pesky guard when she had possession. She had six turnovers against the Mercury, the fourth time this season -- all since July 3 -- that she has had five or more.Parker is a terrific playmaker, even though shes not a guard, and is second in the league in assist average at 5.2. However, Parker leads the league in turnover average (3.1) and is second in overall turnovers (80).Its fully expected that the more someone has the ball in her hands trying to make things happen, the more turnovers shes going to have. But the Sparks need to address ways to cut down on Parkers turnovers, especially in certain matchups.It might seem harsh to mention the giveaways when you consider Parker was the reason the Sparks even had a chance of winning, with her 25 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. But Parker is well-aware how costly turnovers can be, especially against a team like Phoenix that wasnt shooting very well and relished any fast-break opportunities.The Sparks late-game decision-making/shot selection was another flaw Sunday. That bears a closer look, because its something coach Brian Agler is going to stress to his team. How far the Sparks go in the postseason might very well depend on this.Parker scored her last basket on a three-point play with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left. Phoenix center Brittney Griner fouled out on that play, yet neither Parker nor Nneka Ogwumike (15 points) got off another shot.The remainder of the Sparks possessions went like this: Parker turnover on an entry pass, Alana Beard missed jumper, Kristi Toliver made 3-pointer, Toliver missed left-handed layup, Essence Carson missed 3, Beard missed reverse layup.The most wince-inducing miss of all of those was Carsons inexplicable 3-pointer with 10.9 seconds left and the Sparks trailing by two after having just gotten a key defensive stop. How did neither Ogwumike (whos shooting a league-best 70.8 percent from the field) nor Parker even touch the ball on that possession? They werent even really in rebounding position yet when Carson launched it.Carson has shot 43.8 percent (21-of-48) from 3-point range this season. This late in the game down two, the Sparks had to get a higher-percentage shot than that.By the same token, Tolivers earlier layup miss -- with 40 seconds left, 10 on the shot clock -- was also not a shot that L.A. wanted. We all know what Toliver does best: She has 65 3-pointers this season to 48 2-pointers.However, in this game and in the loss to Seattle, Toliver struggled from behind the arc, going a combined 2-of-11. There are times when she does need to mix it up and drive to the basket, obviously. This wasnt the right time.Toliver put the ball on the floor against Phoenix defender DeWanna Bonner, who forced her to the left. While 6-foot-8 Griner was no longer in the game to protect the rim, 6-4 Kelsey Bone was. It created a tough attempt for Toliver, who missed.Toliver is an indispensable part of the Sparks offense. They can win when she has a bad shooting night, but its not very easy. She absolutely has to keep shooting. However, the Sparks simply cant allow themselves to lose games in which their top two players -- both MVP-caliber stars -- dont even get shots in the closing minutes.The Sparks have played seven consecutive road games and still have two more to go on this stretch, as they face San Antonio on Thursday and Dallas on Friday. The last-place Stars are playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude, and the Wings are still desperately trying to climb into a playoff spot. The Sparks will have to battle hard against both of them.Then, finally, its back to Staples Center in Los Angeles for six of their last seven to close out the regular season. Including the Sept. 6 game against Minnesota (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET) that will be the third meeting between the powerhouses this season.Whether Los Angeles still looks as powerful then, as the Sparks have appeared to be most of the summer, depends on how they respond this week. It has been a difficult WNBA re-start for Los Angeles, but its also showed the Sparks what they have to do -- and avoid doing -- to have a long postseason run. Devonte Graham Jersey . Now, with Game 6 set for Fenway Park and an 8:07 p.m. ET first pitch, the Detroit Tigers face the unenviable task of having to beat the Boston Red Sox twice, on the road, to advance to the World Series. 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