SEATTLE (AP) For a time, Candace Parker didn’t know if the Los Angeles Sparks would even be around for the 2014 WNBA season.
They still are, and so is she.
Parker scored 18 points, Alana Beard added 17, and the Sparks, whose future was uncertain after the previous owners suddenly relinquished the franchise in January, opened the season with an 80-69 victory over the Seattle Storm on Friday night.
Parker also grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists for the Sparks, who were purchased on Feb. 5 by a group that is led by former NBA star Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers controlling owner Mark R. Walter.
”This win is sweeter – we all realized what could have been,” Parker said of the anxious weeks she and her teammates went through right after the holidays. ”Sometimes, you have to have something almost taken away to be appreciative of it.”
Jenna O’Hea led the Storm with 12 points. Sue Bird, making her return after missing the entire 2013 season to have a cyst removed from her left knee, had seven points and four assists in 24 minutes. Crystal Langhorne, a two-time All-Star acquired from Washington in a draft day trade, grabbed nine rebounds.
The Sparks trailed just twice, both times early in the first quarter. Tied at 14-14, they went on a 17-3 run bridging the first and second quarters on the way to a 43-32 halftime lead. It grew to as many as 19 points in the third quarter, and the Storm never got closer than eight after that.
”We beat a good Seattle team, but we don’t know where we’re going to be in a couple games, or where they’re going to be in a couple games,” Parker said. ”We’re going to take this for what it’s worth. We started off well, and we’ll just keep it rolling, hopefully.”
Los Angeles forced the Storm into 14 first-half turnovers that led to 19 points.
”It set the tone, for sure,” Sparks head coach Carol Ross said. ”I thought our defense came out with good energy. We need to let our defense score points. It created a lot of offensive opportunities for us.”
In falling behind by double digits, the Storm hit just 3 of 12 in the second quarter, while the Sparks drained 10 of 18.
”We turned the ball over a lot . and you just can’t turn the ball over in this league,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. ”Not only do you take possession away from yourself, but you put yourself in a really bad situation defensively because you’re in a scramble situation.”
Bird came out with 2:27 left in the third quarter, and did not play in the fourth.
”We’re going to learn from this. It’s unfortunate we had to lose at all,” Bird said. ”But I think we saw what we need to do. Now, we know, and hopefully we can build on that – and quickly, because we play tomorrow.”