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Monday, July 1, 2002
Updated: July 2, 5:08 PM ET
Comets come up big in L.A.

By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com

For nearly two years, Los Angeles had been unbeatable at home, winning 28 straight games since July 11, 2000.

Sheryl Swoopes
Sheryl Swoopes is averaging 14.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals.
But the fantastic streak came crashing down Sunday as Houston handed the defending WNBA champion Sparks a 60-58 loss at Staples Center behind 20 points from Sheryl Swoopes.

However, while the win will definitely affect the division standings and factor into determining homecourt advantage come playoff time, don't read anything too big into Houston's win. While Houston found out it can still beat Los Angeles, remember that the Sparks claimed the first meeting between the teams this season, 68-55 in Houston.

The win also reminded everybody what an amazing team the Comets can be. Houston has been able to overcome blow after blow -- from Kim Perrot's death to Cynthia Cooper's retirement, and from Sheryl Swoopes' pregnancy to her torn ACL -- and knows how to play the important games. The Comets aren't afraid to play the best or to put it on the line when it counts.

Lisa Leslie really struggled Sunday and had the worst game I've seen her play in five years. She was hampered by foul trouble and was never able to get into a rhythm. In 32 minutes, Leslie finished with seven points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field, one rebound, four turnovers and five fouls.

Leslie's teammates, however, kept it close. Mwabi Mabika was incredible (18 points, nine rebounds, no turnovers, 40 minutes), DeLisha Milton and Tamecka Dixon combined for 26 points and point guard Nikki Teasley didn't turn the ball over once in 27 minutes.

Both teams, in fact, seemed to take care of the ball. You know the game was played at a high level when L.A. committed just nine turnovers and the Comets had 10. But the big difference was at the foul line. Houston, paced by Sheryl Swoopes' 14-for-15 effort, attempted 25 free throws -- an amazing number on the road -- and made them count, sinking 21 (84 percent). The Sparks went just 8-for-14 at the foul line.

The other X-factor was rebounding. The Comets grabbed 37 rebounds, eight more than the Sparks. Houston had 14 offensive boards to Los Angeles' eight.

Putbacks
Chamique Holdsclaw
Holdsclaw
  • Mystics making waves: Chamique Holdsclaw has been playing incredibly well this season, and so far, is clearly one of the favorites for the league's MVP award. Holdsclaw is leading the league in scoring (19.9 points per game) and rebounding (11.8 boards). She's also on the injured list. Still, if Washington has to lose Holdsclaw for a handful of games, this is the right time for it to happen. The Mystics play at Minnesota (Wednesday) and at Indiana (Saturday), a couple of programs with losing records. Washington already has proven it can win without Holdsclaw, coming up huge in a victory over Charlotte on Sunday. The Mystics are a very well-balanced team this season -- three players are averaging double-figures in scoring and nine players are averaging at least 11.1 minutes per game -- and are playing with tremendous confidence.

  • No Garden party: New York has always played well and confidently in Madison Square Garden -- it has been their fail safe. But the Liberty have lost three of four at home, and lost five of its past six. New York looked especially bad Sunday, shooting 17-for-53 (32.1 percent) from the field in a 54-44 loss to Portland. New York (8-8), which should be a very balanced team, just isn't getting the production it needs, and the problem might be the fact that two of the team's veterans are struggling. Teresa Weatherspoon is averaging just three points per game and shooting a miserable 12 percent from 3-point range. Teammate Sue Wicks had just two points and five rebounds against Portland. Though she had sat out two games with a sprained ankle, those still can't be considered typical numbers for her.

  • Portland pours it on: Washington isn't the only team thriving while its "star" is sidelined with injury. With the win over New York, Portland (7-8) won its third in a row and second consecutive without Jackie Stiles, who is suffering from bursitis in her right heel. Ukari Figgs has been a great addition for Portland, Alisa Burras is starting to play well and DeMya Walker is having her best season. And though no Portland player averages double-figures in scoring, great balance -- seven players averaging at least six points per game -- makes up for it. This young and feisty team has a lot of balance and a ton of athleticism.

    ESPN analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman is a former WNBA coach, general manager and player. She is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.