Lynx, Sparks renew rivalry (Jul 5, 2017)

BY AP • July 5, 2017

They claimed three of the past four WNBA titles. They were the two best teams last season, which ended with their epic battle in Game 5 of the Finals, considered one of the greatest in league history.

Not much has changed.

The Minnesota Lynx (12-1) and Los Angeles Sparks (12-3) are once again the top two teams in the WNBA. They meet for the first time this season Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

In October, Nneka Ogwumike's put-back with 3.1 seconds remaining gave the Sparks a 77-76 win and their first championship in 14 years.

"That's a heart-breaking way to lose," said the Lynx's Maya Moore, who had put her team up by one with 15 seconds to go. "The team that won this game deserved to win the game. It's just hard to have it come that close."

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve says she has moved on.

"Other than when people bring it up," she told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press after Wednesday's practice, "it's not at the top of my mind anymore.

"(Thursday's game is) not the WNBA Finals. It's a regular-season game and both teams are jockeying for position, and I'm sure both teams are going to want to win the game."

Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, who this week was named Eastern Conference player of the month for the second straight time, said last year's loss will fuel her.

"It definitely sparks something in us because we did lose to them last year," Fowles told the newspaper. "That's always on our mind when we have to go back and face them."

Fowles is second in the league this season in both points (20.7 per game) and rebounds (10.1).

For the Sparks, who have won eight straight games, Ogwumike and Candace Parker are second and third behind Fowles in the WNBA's list of most likely MVPs.

Parker had 17 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday when Los Angeles came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Washington Mystics 76-69.

"I joke with our team saying that I'd rather us be down 17 points than up 17 points -- just the way in which we attack possessions," Parker told the website Swish Appeal.

"We knew that we didn't play very well in the first half but we kept it within distance. We had to get the game within single digits by the fourth quarter and that's what we did."

Parker said she believes Thursday's contest will gauge where her team stands in 2017.

"It will be a good opportunity to see where we are against the top team in the league," she said.

"We're excited to play them, excited to hold up our end of the rivalry," Parker said. "But it's only a rivalry when you beat a team multiple times in the playoffs. We have to get a couple more (playoff series) wins for it truly to be a rivalry. But it is becoming that."

The Lynx have remained on top thanks to their current three-game win streak that followed their first loss of the season, against Connecticut on Jun 17.

But this will be their biggest challenge yet this year.

"It's pretty much us in a different uniform," Fowles said, according to the Pioneer Press. "That's what's exciting about it."

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