Sparks flying after opening win over defending champs (May 21, 2018)

May 21, 2018

Los Angeles is one of the true contenders for the WNBA championship and proved it with its season-opening win over defending champion Minnesota on Sunday. The Sparks are looking to continue to take care of business when they square off against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Sparks have won 12 of their past 15 regular-season meetings against the Fever dating to the 2011 season. Los Angeles had captured five of its last seven regular-season road games at Indiana.

The Sparks head south and east to the heartland of America after a thrilling 77-76 win in the Twin Cities on Sunday in a rematch between the teams from last season's championship series.

Chelsea Gray scored had 18 points, including the game-winner in the lane at the buzzer for short-handed Los Angeles.

"Chelsea is the game-winner queen," said Odyssey Sims, who led the Sparks with 21 points. "I don't know how she squeezed up and flipped it in. I still don't believe. I don't even know how, but it was amazing."

Nneka Ogwumike added 19 points and nine rebounds and Essence Carson had 10 points for the Sparks, who hit just 3 of 18 3-point shots.

Los Angeles played without star Candace Parker, who is out with a back injury. The Sparks were also without Russian center Maria Vadeeva, a key offseason acquisition who has not joined the team yet, and Jantel Lavender, who is also still playing in Europe.

"We love Candace -- she's a heck of a player, one of the best in the league," Sparks coach Brian Agler said after the win over Minnesota. "But I just kind of focus on the people that are here. That's all we do."

Indiana is 0-2 after losing to Washington 82-75 on Sunday afternoon in the nation's capital. Natalie Achonwa had career highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Fever.

Candace Dupree added 13 points and 10 boards for Indiana, which was within six points with 1:25 to play. The double-double was the 65th of Dupree's 13-year career.

"I wanted to be more aggressive today," Achonwa said after the loss, in which she posted the first double-double of her career. "We played with more effort and energy. We didn't get the outcome we wanted, but we improved today."

Indiana outrebounded Washington 39-27, which was the Fever's largest rebound margin in two seasons. They finished last in rebounding in the WNBA the past two seasons.

Indiana missed nine of its 25 free throws and was just 5 of 15 from beyond the arc. The Fever are a combined 8 of 30 from 3-point range in their first two games.

Indiana coach Pokey Chatman said there were positives to take away from the loss to Washington.

"I was pleased with our ability to bounce back," Chatman said. "We got behind but fought back. I thought Washington did well in not letting us gain any momentum, but we made strides today."

Indiana, whose roster has an average age of 25, played four rookies for the second consecutive game, marking the first time at least four Fever rookies played in the same game in back-to-back outings since Indiana's first WNBA season in 2000.

The Fever continue a brutal beginning stretch that includes three more games in the next six days, including a rematch with the Mystics on Thursday.

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