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Friday, August 10, 2001
Sparks still have something to prove

By Nancy Lieberman-Cline
Special to ESPN.com

For some reason, Houston always plays well against Los Angeles. There is always pride on the line. Tina Thompson always gets up to play against Lisa Leslie.

Tina Thompson
Tina Thompson scored 29 points in the Comets' 69-65 win over the Sparks in June.
The Sparks have split two games with the Comets and haven't blown them away this year like they have other teams. The teams meet again on Saturday in Los Angeles and the Comets still have what the Sparks want -- championship rings. There is a healthy respect between coaches Michael Cooper of LA and Van Chancellor of Houston.

Los Angeles now owns the longest winning streak (17 games) and the longest home winning streak (21) in WNBA history. I expect the Sparks will be on their "A" game, trying to go into the playoffs feeling good about themselves. For Houston, the game could determine where the Comets are seeded in the playoffs, from No. 2 to No. 4. And they don't have a home-court edge over Utah or Sacramento.

But even if the game is more important for Houston, Cooper will take the opposite approach and make the Sparks believe that they have to play the best basketball of their careers. He will offer all the motivational material they could ever need.

Last year the Sparks had the WNBA's best record, but they lost two straight in the playoffs to Houston. The Sparks players know they have been disappointed before and can't afford to think having the best record is good enough. The Sparks need to take themselves to a different level mentally and be focused on their goal. And Houston is in their way.

Editor's Note: ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman-Cline is a Hall of Famer and former WNBA coach/player.