Mercury's struggles continue in loss to Sparks

Mercury's struggles continue in loss to Sparks

Published Jun. 8, 2012 11:27 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Nneka Ogwumike had season highs of 25 points and 12 rebounds and Candace Parker added 23 points and 10 rebounds to help the Los Angeles Sparks defeat the Phoenix Mercury 90-74 on Friday night.

The Sparks (6-1) have won four straight and are off to their best start since 2003. The 16-point victory was their largest of the season.

Parker recorded her fourth straight double-double and matched a season-high with four assists.

DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 12 of her 21 points in the second half and hit a 3-pointer after Phoenix climbed back to seven points down with 6:30 remaining.

She acknowledged that the Sparks' wins have come against teams that are a combined 3-17, but she senses something building.

"It's definitely something different than what we've experienced the previous years," Milton-Jones said. "There's a different energy about this team and a different type of identity. I feel like our intensity level on the defensive end is something that is more consistent . it's been carrying us this far.

"It definitely pleases me to know we're growing on the go because there's a lot of newness about this team. We're able to grow as we go."

A common thread in L.A.'s success is defense and the dynamic between Ogwumike, Parker and guard Kristi Toliver. The three helped the Sparks achieve 20 assists on 34 field goals made. Toliver had 14 points and a season high nine assists.

"With every day and practice, and games, we feel like we can understand each other's games and I think it's finally connecting," Ogwumike said. "These last couple of games have really shown that. I just try to play off of them. They're great players to play with. It's actually kind of nice. It's stress-free, because they're so talented and they're really smart players along with everybody else. I think we're doing a good job of understanding each other's tendencies."

The Mercury fell to 2-5. Its two wins are against winless Tulsa and all five losses are by double digits. Phoenix is 1-4 without Diana Taurasi, the former MVP who is out indefinitely with a left hip flexor strain. Penny Taylor is out for the season with a knee injury.

How difficult is it without Taurasi and Taylor?

"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."

Gaines said the game plan is simply to "Try to be in the game and play as hard as we can."

The Mercury (2-5) have only beaten Tulsa twice this season while all five losses are by double digits. Phoenix is 1-4 without Diana Taurasi, the former MVP who is out indefinitely with a left hip flexor strain.

Charde Houston led Phoenix with 22 points and made four of five 3-point attempts. DeWanna Bonner added 18 points and Candice Dupree had 13.

Bonner made consecutive 3-point baskets to pull Phoenix to 73-66 but the Mercury got no closer. Milton-Jones sank a baseline 3-pointer for an 81-68 lead. Parker took a no-look pass from Kristi Toliver for the last of her points for an 88-71 lead.

Phoenix trimmed a 22-point deficit to nine after three quarters. Houston made a pair of 3-pointers and Dupree completed a three-point play and made a jumper in the final four minutes of the third.

Parker finished a 13-0 run with a pair of free throws and a layup late in the first half as the Sparks took a 43-28 lead into halftime. Phoenix was held without a field goal in the final 4:52 of the opening half. Bonner was 0 for 5 and Dupree was 2 for 11 as the Mercury shot 28.1 percent from the field.

Sparks forward Alana Beard was listed as "DNP-Coach's decision" but coach Carol Ross said after the game that Beard is day-to-day with a "tweaked" hamstring. Beard started all six previous games.

Coco Miller made her Sparks debut. Los Angeles on Friday signed Miller for backcourt help. Sharnee Zoll was expected to contribute at point guard but Zoll tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee before the season and the Sparks waived her Wednesday.

Miller played for Ross the past three seasons in Atlanta when Ross was an assistant coach for the Dream.