What a week of practice can do for a player. Just ask Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker. Or maybe get the perspective from the Minnesota Lynx.
After missing the first three games of the season and coming off the bench in the fourth game, Parker started Sunday's contest against the struggling defending WNBA champions.
With a full week of practice behind her, Parker recorded a double-double -- 19 points and 10 rebounds -- to lead the Sparks (4-1) over the Lynx 77-69. Minnesota fell to 2-5 and is in 10th place only ahead of the Las Vegas Aces and Indiana Fever.
"I felt like I wasn't limited in any movement, Parker told the Los Angeles Times, adding that she still doesn't think she is 100 percent.
The Seattle Storm (5-2) are about to discover just how good Parker is feeling. The two teams square off Thursday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles, with the Storm coming off a tough loss to the Dallas Wings. The Sparks have won two straight since suffering their only loss -- to the first-place Connecticut Sun.
Seattle erased a 26-point deficit on Saturday on the road in Dallas only to lose 94-90. The second quarter doomed the Storm as the Wings shot 78.6 percent from the field to blow the game open.
The Storm had set a WNBA record against the New York Liberty on May 30 by connecting on 17 3-point attempts. Against Dallas, Seattle went 6-for-23 behind the arc.
It was their defense in the third period that allowed the Storm to climb back into the game and eventually tie it in the fourth before they ran out of gas.
Point guard Sue Bird sat out the game to rest as the Storm were playing their fifth game in 10 days. Jordin Canada started in her place and recorded nine points, nine assists and five steals.
"She's obviously our leader," Seattle head coach Dan Hughes said of Bird. "I think we evolved into kind of dealing with it, but initially, you know, it's not really something we would have practiced to or planned to at that point. But I did think we finally adjusted, finally understood who we were without Sue and made some headways."
Hughes does have Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd to carry the offense with Bird out. Stewart and Loyd are second and third in the league at 22.3 and 21.6 points per game, respectively.
As they prepare for the Sparks, the Storm know they're never out of a game.
"We can be down 20 and come right back like it's nothing, and that's just the fight of our team," Loyd said. "We're never out of games, we never think the game's over, we fight to the end."
While Seattle is second in the league with an average of 91.6 points a game, the Sparks are allowing 77.8 points per contest, the second lowest in the league. And as usual, guard Alana Beard is the defensive catalyst for Los Angeles.
Against the Lynx, she held Maya Moore scoreless in the first quarter and allowed the future Hall of Famer only three fourth-quarter points.
"She's as good a defender as I've been around," Sparks head coach Brian Agler told the Times. "She just makes it difficult on whoever she's guarding."