LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Sparks finally got a win at home, and it came with their best player watching from the bench.
With leading scorer and rebounder Candace Parker out with a left knee strain, Nneka Ogwumike scored 21 points and Alana Beard had 17 to help Sparks beat the Indiana Fever 77-73 on Monday night.
Ogwumike scored the final four points for the Sparks (12-14), who snapped a five-game home losing streak, dating to their last home win on June 24. Los Angeles entered the game a league-worst 3-9 at home, a disappointing record given it was 31-3 at Staples Center the previous two seasons.
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”We want to be able to defend Staples and we want it to be our territory,” Ogwumike said. ”There’s no reason why we should have more wins on the road than at home. Granted, it seems we can handle the road quite well, but we want to be able to get the advantage we can when we play on our home floor, especially coming into the playoffs.”
The Sparks found out just before tip-off that Parker aggravated a knee injury in warm-ups and wouldn’t be available. Sparks coach Penny Toler said it would up to Parker to decide if she will play Tuesday at Phoenix.
Ogwumike said losing Parker, who scored 34 points against Indiana on July 15, was nothing new during this tumultuous part of the season. Toler improved to 2-2 as coach since she took over after the All-Star break.
”We’re a team of adjustments this year, so we’ve done a good job of just focusing on the task at hand,” Ogwumike said. ”We’ve had people in and out . but I don’t think we doubt each other. We know what everyone’s capable of, and we bring everything we can to the table.”
Ogwumike slipped behind the defense to take a pass from Kristi Toliver for an open layup and then made two free throws with five seconds remaining for a 77-73 lead.
Beard scored the go-ahead basket at 73-72 on a jumper from the right side. Indiana had chances to tie in the final seconds but Briann January missed twice and Indiana (12-14) had to foul after it could not secure the rebound on Karima Christmas’ intentionally missed free throw.
Tamika Catchings led the Fever with 16 points and January had 12. Erlana Larkins had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Indiana coach Lin Dunn was especially frustrated at the defensive breakdown on Ogwumike’s layup, plus three missed free throws by January and Catchings in the final five minutes.
”We didn’t finish the game,” Dunn said. ”We didn’t take care of business at the end when we needed to hit our free throws, when we needed get a defensive stop. The game’s on the line and you don’t let Ogwumike go back door and get a wide-open layup. You let that happen and you don’t deserve to win.”
The Sparks took a 35-31 lead into halftime after it held the Fever to eight points in the second quarter, the fewest points allowed by the Sparks in that quarter this season. Toliver highlighted a 16-4 run with a layup to finish a pretty feed from Jantel Lavender, who capped the run with a jumper.
Indiana had won four of its previous five on the road but saw its overall losing streak to L.A. reach seven games.
”There are definitely some good things, but there are definitely some things within our control that we didn’t take care of – rebounding consistently and communicating on defense was a huge thing, and making free throws down the stretch,” January said. ”Those are things we need to do to pull out games on the road, and we fell short today.”