A big performance from Candace Parker wasn’t enough for the Los Angeles Sparks to win their first matchup with the Washington Mystics.
With Parker coming off another dominant effort but her team facing a key injury concern, the Sparks look to continue their recent improvement and knock off the visiting Mystics on Thursday night.
Los Angeles (10-11) is returning home from a four-game trip, which it opened with a loss to Minnesota before winning three in a row for the first time this season.
The Sparks pulled within a half-game of San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference with Tuesday’s 86-78 victory over Indiana. Los Angeles trailed by 10 at halftime but Parker – who will start in her third All-Star game Saturday – scored 17 of her season-high 34 points in the third quarter to help her club pull ahead.
The Sparks won despite All-Star Nneka Ogwumike’s second-quarter departure due to an ankle injury. Her status is uncertain.
Kristi Toliver’s 22 points helped Los Angeles overcome the Fever without Ogwumike.
"We’ve got into our groove," said Parker, whose 20.1 points per game ranks third in the league and is the second-highest average of her career. "… Hopefully, we’re going to peak at the right time."
Parker’s previous season high was 32 points in a 92-84 triple-overtime loss at Washington on June 1. She also grabbed 12 rebounds, though she was just 10 for 28 from the field as the Mystics’ reserves outscored the Sparks’ 63-10, led by Bria Hartley with a team-high 20 points. Washington won despite 31 turnovers.
The Mystics (9-13) have lost four of six, though coach Mike Thibault wasn’t entirely upset with his team’s performance in a 90-78 road loss to red-hot Phoenix on Tuesday.
Washington pulled within eight with 8:44 remaining but couldn’t get any closer to the Mercury, who won their 11th straight.
"You are talking about a team that is amongst the most talented teams in the history of this league," Thibault said. "You have players who are among the elite. They blitzed us early, and we hung in the game. There are very few losses you feel good about as a coach but I feel like tonight we made some progress because we didn’t back down from a great team."
Monique Currie scored a team-high 19 for Washington, the only Eastern Conference team without an All-Star. Five Mystics are averaging at least 8.9 points but none more than the 11.1 by Ivory Latta, who scored 13 versus Phoenix.
The Sparks are tied for the league’s worst home record at 3-6, but have won five in a row against the Mystics in Los Angeles.