Struggling Lynx still a challenge for 3-1 Sparks

Ignore the win-loss records, especially this early in the season.

When the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks step on the court, there’s always more at stake than the final score.

That will be the case Sunday when the Lynx (2-4) face the Sparks (3-1) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lynx certainly will have a little payback in mind.

The two WNBA powerhouses kicked off the season in Minnesota with the Lynx raising the 2017 championship banner and then going on to lose 77-76. The Lynx went on to win their next two, but coming into Sunday’s contest have lost three straight, including a 95-85 setback Friday at home to the Phoenix Mercury.

Despite the losing streak, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve isn’t pushing the panic button.

“While these last (three) games have been losses for us, there was progress in these games in terms of where we’re trying to get to,” she told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “It’s not a moral victory situation, but it’s important we’re finding our way and we’re spending time with more good moments than not good moments.”

The Sparks have enjoyed some good moments as well despite not having All-Star Candace Parker in the lineup for the first three games.

The 11-year veteran saw her first action of the season after having minor back surgery when the Sparks defeated Phoenix 80-72 on May 27. She scored 10 points off the bench in limited time. She had only a couple practices under her belt but has had a week to get in game shape for the Lynx.

“I’m feeling good,” she told the Los Angeles Times while adjusting an ice pack on her knee. “Rhythm-wise, and obviously condition-wise, it’s another story. But in terms of my back and my body, I feel good.”

Even without Parker in the lineup, the Sparks have plenty of firepower. Nneka Ogwumike is averaging 20.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims are averaging 18.5 and 18 points, respectively.

The Sparks have some work to do on defense as they allow opponents to make 49.4 percent of their field-goal attempts. Without Parker and Jantel Lavender in the lineup, Los Angeles is being outrebounded by more than five boards per game. They will welcome Lavender back after the Turkish League Finals.

“I think size is a big key for us; we’re playing with two post players down right now,” Parker said. “I think it’s just about getting our rhythm and playing and finding our rotations.”

Problems for the Lynx can be traced to fourth-quarter meltdowns. During their slide, they were outscored 26-18 by Atlanta, 24-10 by Washington and 20-15 by Phoenix.

“In this league when you don’t execute your game plan at a high level you can get beat,” Maya Moore told the Pioneer Press after the loss to Phoenix. “I thought we played with good passion, good energy for most of the game, but we just weren’t able to combine that with executing and making really good offensive players more uncomfortable than we did.”

Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles might be able to take advantage of neither Parker nor Lavender being in tip-top shape. She leads the league in rebounding with 12.5 per game, and is adding 16.5 points on 61.9 percent shooting.