Category archive: Los Angeles Sparks

LOS ANGELES -- The biggest surprise for Nneka Ogwumike in her first season in the WNBA?

Just how easy it was.

Well, maybe she didn't put it exactly like that, but as the Los Angeles Sparks forward accepted the WNBA Rookie of the Year award Sunday morning before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, she talked about how "smooth" her transition into the professional game has been.

[+] Enlarge
Ross-Ogwumike
Jon SooHoo/NBAE/Getty ImagesBoth coach Carol Ross and Nneka Ogwumike are in their first season with the Los Angeles Sparks.

She did it while sitting next to Carol Ross, who also was named the league's coach of the year after leading the Sparks to a 24-10 regular season.

"I expected a lot of things," said Ogwumike, who became the fifth consecutive No. 1 overall draft pick to win rookie of the year honors. "The program I was welcomed into, it was a blessing. From Penny [Toler] to the Madisons [the team's owners] to the coaches and the teammates … I haven't had any complaints about how they have helped me develop this season, and I couldn't have asked for a better place to be. It's not just a program, it's a family, and I'm all about that type of situation."

Blessed with remarkable athleticism and composure, Ogwumike was mentored all season by Candace Parker, the runner-up for the WNBA MVP award, and DeLisha Milton-Jones, a 14-year-veteran. Ogwumike averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds in her first professional regular season and made an immediate impact, helping the Sparks' contend for the league title.

Ross said Parker and Ogwumike have made a potent combination in the frontcourt. And they made her job easier.

"Any coach would be fortunate to coach either one of them, much less both," Ross said. "Both bring different things. Candace has already experienced so much, and for Nneka to be able to play in that tandem and have some on-the-job training while she's growing as a pro player has been beneficial.

"We have the youth and energy and enthusiasm of the best rookie in the league in Nneka and the experience and wisdom of one of the most talented players in the world in Candace Parker. It's been great for them to work together."

Ross is in her first season with Los Angeles after serving as an assistant in Atlanta, where as the Dream's defensive guru she helped them to two straight trips to the WNBA Finals.

Ross, who feels fortunate to have inherited a roster full of both experience and talent, said it was her goal this season to teach her team to overcome adversity.

"That's been one of the biggest things with this team, to get through the tough stuff," Ross said. "Anybody can play when everything is going your way. But how do you bounce back?"

Lindsay WhalenDavid Sherman/NBAE via Getty ImagesKristi Toliver and the Sparks host the Lynx in a must-win Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

In the immediate aftermath of falling surprisingly flat to open the Western Conference finals Thursday, the Los Angeles Sparks had different ideas about what had gone wrong in a 94-77 loss to Minnesota.

Candace Parker was irritated by her team's indecisive pick-and-roll defense and lack of overall fight. DeLisha Milton-Jones saw a deficient sense of urgency. Alana Beard thought the Sparks didn't defend or rebound well enough to get their all-important transition game going. Kristi Toliver felt the Sparks started the game back on their heels, and never recovered.

Coach Carol Ross noticed all of the above, along with delivering the quintessential coach's line, "I'm going to have to look at film to review it all, but …"

It was bad, period. However, it's because the Sparks are such a good team that they can be that blunt about it.

[+] Enlarge
Seimone Augustus, Nneka Ogwumike
Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty ImagesSeimone Augustus and the Lynx outrebounded Nneka Ogwumike's Sparks 37-25 in Game 1.

The Sparks now have a do-or-die game Sunday at the Staples Center (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Parker indicated maybe it was just as well that the Sparks feel the heat.

"I would take our team down 10 or 15 than up 20 any day," Parker said, "because I think we play with a lot more aggression, a lot more heart and effort, when we're down."

That's the kind of spin a player needs to make the best of the predicament the Sparks are in. Parker undoubtedly would have preferred that Los Angeles never gets into the situation of being forced to rally in a game or a series. But since that's where the Sparks are, she will remind them that they actually did play their best basketball Thursday when they were in comeback mode.

There wasn't any panic in L.A.'s locker room at an otherwise joyful Target Center after Game 1. The Sparks seemed annoyed at themselves more than anything else.

Which they should have been. The Sparks had to travel for the series opener, but they were the more rested team considering that in the time since they had finished their first-round sweep of San Antonio, the Lynx had played twice.

During the first round, it seemed Seattle had revealed a potential crack in Minnesota's title defense and that the Sparks just needed to come in and pound away at that vulnerability. It just didn't turn out that way.

After a close first quarter, Minnesota all but sealed the victory by scoring twice as many points as Los Angeles in the second quarter. The Sparks went on some runs in the second half, but every time they'd be on the verge of making the Lynx uncomfortable, Minnesota would get a basket or defensive stop.

"When you don't rebound, No. 1, you don't deserve to win," Ross said of the Lynx's 37-25 edge on the boards. "And, No. 2, everything else you try to do is more difficult. They had 24 more shot attempts than us, and quite a few came off offensive rebounding."

The Sparks, like the Lynx, were very good at home this summer, going 16-1 in the regular season in L.A. Their only loss there was June 24 against San Antonio.

Los Angeles is trying to make the league finals for the first time since 2003, which is a long time ago in terms of personnel in the league. But the Sparks do have one player, Milton-Jones, who was with them, in 2001-02, when they won back-to-back WNBA titles.

"It looked very chaotic," Milton-Jones said of the Sparks at their worst Thursday.

Then, like Ross, her former college coach at Florida, she stressed how imperative it is for the Sparks to hit the boards Sunday in order to extend their season.

"We really have to put a lot of our focus on our effort and what we do once the ball is shot and hits the rim," she said. "From that moment on, we have to know the ball is the most important thing."

LOS ANGELES -- Sparks coach Carol Ross never doubted that she had a scorer on her team in point guard Kristi Toliver. Whether Toliver could put the ball in the basket was never the issue.

But Toliver marked the 2012 season by rounding out her game in a few more very important ways.

The fifth-year player from Maryland shook off previous disappointments. She became a distributor and a defender. And on Thursday, as the Sparks were preparing to open the WNBA playoffs against the San Antonio Silver Stars at the Galen Center, she officially became the WNBA's most improved player for 2012.

Toliver stopped warming up and walked over with a shy smile to talk about an honor that felt hard-won.

"I'm going to enjoy it because it's proof that hard work pays off, all the hours in the gym and outside of the gym," Toliver said. "The persistence and resilience that I've had in my pro career, the success and good things didn't happen right away, and it's nice that it's all paying off now."

Toliver started 33 games for Los Angeles, establishing career highs in scoring (17.5), assists (4.9), rebounds (3.2) and steals (1.3), as well as field goal percentage (.491) and minutes (31.5 mpg).

Her offense propelled Los Angeles into the postseason, as she scored at least 20 points in every game in August and was the Western Conference player of the month.

"It's a credit to all her hard work and her belief in herself," Ross said. "To see it all come together, for her to have success, it's not a secret anymore. Everybody is acknowledging it now, really, what I think people should have known all along. She's a heck of a player."

Earlier in her career, Toliver was a scoring spark off the bench. Now, she's a go-to talent with all-around game.

"To not just shoot, but be a great distributor, and her ability to pass has been under-acknowledged," Ross said. "On the defensive side, she's been more engaged, more accountable. She's wanted to be complete. This isn't football, you don't sub out when you cross half-court. She has embraced being a complete player."

Toliver isn't done yet.

"I feel like there's belief that I can be an elite player at this level, but I'm not there yet," Toliver said. "I wanted to be higher in the league in assists and I was fourth, and that's a step. That will be another goal for me, to be the top assist person.

"I'm never satisfied, that's how I'm built. I was sixth in scoring and fourth in assists and I want to be No. 1 in both. That's just how I approach things."

The first few weeks of this WNBA season, it appeared Minnesota undoubtedly was on its way to a second championship. Then the Lynx had a hiccup in early July, losing three in a row. Well … maybe not so fast on that repeat thing.

But, now, it again appears we might already know the winner for this year's WNBA race. Since the Olympic break ended, the Lynx have looked like they're ready to make like Usain Bolt on the rest of the league.

Tuesday in Minneapolis, the Lynx beat Los Angeles 88-77, giving Minnesota its ninth consecutive victory. And they did it in the now-standard Los Lynx way: spectacular performances from their two superstars, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, excellent game management from point guard Lindsay Whalen, very solid interior defense, and good contributions off the bench.

[+] Enlarge
Maya Moore
Marilyn Indahl/US PresswireMaya Moore tied a Lynx record with five first-half steals Tuesday en route to a career-high seven.

How do you beat the Lynx? When they're playing like this, nobody else in the league can.

It was a historic night for Augustus, who passed Katie Smith to become the franchise's all-time scoring leader. Of course, it was a very different Lynx franchise that Smith played for -- one that had little postseason success and always seemed mired in mediocrity. One of Minnesota's low points was trading away Smith in 2005 for what ended up being essentially nothing.

But Augustus arrived the next year, as the No. 1 draft pick in 2006, and that was when you could perhaps start to see the faintest light at the end of the tunnel. Well, maybe. Truth is, it was still hard to find a lot of optimism about the Lynx even then. Augustus got through those hard times, though, accepting the fact that much of the franchise's future was on her shoulders.

She was more than happy to share some of that load with the Lynx's No. 1 draft pick in 2011, Moore. And all the parts that have surrounded them last season and this one have fit pretty perfectly, too.

Moore said at the start of 2012 that the challenge for the Lynx would be to stay as hungry as they were last year when they were chasing the franchise's first title. Well, the Lynx appear to be just as ravenous now as they were a year ago.

Augustus had 23 points and four assists against the Sparks. Moore had 23 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven steals. She threw in two assists and a blocked shot, too. If you wanted to do an instructional video on hustle from a great player, this game by Moore would be fantastic footage.

Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin led the effort to clog up the Sparks' inside game. Guard Alana Beard led the Sparks with 17 points, and she's really coming into her own again offensively. Since the Olympic break, Beard has scored in double figures in six of the Sparks' seven games.

The problem is, the Sparks are not playing as well on either end of the court as they need to. It seems pretty clear that center Candace Parker is not physically 100 percent; on Tuesday she had just six points on 3-of-8 shooting.

The Sparks have lost three in a row. They have two road games left before finishing out the regular season with four at home. The best news L.A. has right now is that next up is the team with the league's worst record, 5-22 Washington.

The D.C. fans are likely to give a warm greeting to former Mystic Beard, but she will have serious business on her mind in trying to get the Sparks out of this slump. Now four games back of first-place Minnesota in the West, it seems unlikely that the Sparks are going to catch the Lynx. Instead, L.A. has to concentrate on getting Parker in as good a shape as possible for the postseason, and trying to go into the playoffs with some momentum.

That's something the Lynx have in abundance right now. The biggest challenge Minnesota faces for the rest of the regular season is weariness from travel: The Lynx play six of their last eight games on the road.

If any team is prepared for that grind, though, it appears to be Minnesota. The Lynx look ready for anything.

Seattle's Sue Bird and Swin Cash talk about their memories of the WNBA's launch on June 21, 1997. That summer, they were getting ready for their high school senior year.

Los Angeles' DeLisha Milton-Jones didn't try to avoid the obvious recently when asked about the struggles the Sparks have had this summer.

After Lisa Leslie retired, Candace Parker was going to be the team's undisputed centerpiece. But Parker's season ended after 10 games because of a shoulder injury.

"You know, you go through the whole list of clichés to try to make it seem like it won't be that bad," Milton-Jones said. "Like, 'It doesn't matter; one player doesn't make the whole team.' But at the end of the day, that one player is vital.

"When it's someone who is also one of the faces of women's basketball … that is not just a hole. That is an astronomically large crater that we have to fill. What that player brought to us is something that can't be replaced. The way teams had to formulate defenses to stop Candace when she is in transition, when she is setting a pick, when a pick is set for her, when she's on the block, when she's on the 3-point line …"

Yep, Parker is a multifaceted nightmare for defenders. Milton-Jones knew as soon as she found out that Parker was done for the season that the Sparks were in trouble. It was an additional blow to L.A. to lose guard Betty Lennox to injury, too; she appeared in just 11 games.

But Milton-Jones held on to the hope that the Sparks would find a way to still get into the playoffs. She expected it would be kind of like dragging several large pieces of heavy luggage -- which had the wheels fall off -- to an airport gate that seemed five miles away. Oh, and don't even think there is a luggage cart available to help.

Well, on Friday night, the Sparks finally made it to that gate. And they didn't miss their flight. L.A. is going to the postseason. A 98-91 win over the Minnesota Lynx put the Sparks in the playoffs.

Milton-Jones had a season-high 24 points. Her fellow "old ladies" on the Sparks were also critically important. Tina Thompson led L.A. with 26 points, while Ticha Penicheiro had 12 assists. All three players are 35; Milton-Jones and Penicheiro will be 36 in September.

Thompson, who became the WNBA's career scoring leader last week, also had nine rebounds, while Milton-Jones had seven.

"We're feeling very, very good, but we know the hard part is about to begin for us," Milton-Jones said. "This win tonight … we can't get too high off it because we want to go in [to the postseason] and represent ourselves well."

Actually, they should take some pride in just making the playoffs. Thompson, Milton-Jones and Penicheiro have all won WNBA titles, and their resolve and leadership carried the Sparks in the worst times. When the going got rough this season, they kept on going.

The Sparks' victory added one more piece to the playoff puzzle, which is still not fully formed. Now we have seven of the eight postseason teams, but the matchups remain to be determined.

There was a fair amount of drama Friday in that regard. The San Antonio Silver Stars, despite losing Chamique Holdsclaw to an Achilles tendon injury earlier this week, scrambled for an important 75-61 victory over the Indiana Fever. It put the Silver Stars closer to the last Western Conference playoff spot, while the Lynx were pushed a little further away by the loss to L.A.

Speaking of pushing, a little of that went on in D.C., as the Washington Mystics edged the New York Liberty in a 75-74 thriller that ended New York's 10-game winning streak. There was a bit of a postgame scuffle that fortunately didn't last long or amount to much … but it did show that passions are more than a little inflamed at this point in the season.

Going into the final two days of the regular season, Washington, New York and Indiana are all at 21-12 and tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Ready for the big finish?

Do you ever think this "regulator" in your brain sometimes makes decisions for your own good? I envision this tiny, frequently exhausted bureaucrat running around in our craniums, trying to keep the whole body and mind happy, with a desk overflowing with paperwork and a phone ringing non-stop. Then one day …

It says, "Enough! I need a break! You need a break! I'm benching you!"

Of course, I'm not entirely serious about this … but I'm not exactly joking, either. If your body sends messages that your conscious mind continues to ignore, or at least underestimate, maybe your mind sends a message to the body: "Look, you're going to need to do something more drastic. She's not listening."

This occurred to me upon hearing the news that Candace Parker was going to be out for the rest of the WNBA season -- and, almost certainly, the World Championship in September -- after surgery on her dislocated left shoulder.

Maybe the regulator in Parker's brain made an executive decision: "Candace, take a seat. At least for a little while."

Parker, who has also gone through an ACL tear, has shown a huge capacity in her career for pain endurance, rehabilitation and playing through injuries. Her will to play has seemed to be greater than her instinct for self-preservation.

This is fairly common in athletes but not necessarily to the degree that we've seen it in Parker … or at least how Parker has combined an ability to juggle an enormous amount of responsibility while maintaining the highest level of play.

But probably many folks who've watched her have thought, "Wow, is she ever going to hit a wall?" I admit I have. While we hoped it wouldn't happen, in some ways, we're relieved it's happening now. Parker might come back from the injury rested, refreshed and more eager to play than ever.

While the idea that a part of one's mind forcing a person to slow down is likely not a process that is that literal, that's the shorthand I use for it. It's based on how I experienced it a dozen years ago.

At that point, I'd been working as a journalist for 10 years and had called in sick to work once when I had food poisoning. It irked me to miss that one day.

Then during one particularly insane stretch, I went from August 1997 to April '98 working virtually every day, often putting in double-digit hours. Two weeks after the 1998 Women's Final Four in Kansas City, I noticed this strange little mark on my shoulder. I wasn't sure what it was … until the nurse at the newspaper took a look and said, "You need to go home immediately. You have chicken pox."

"What?" I said. "No! I don't even feel sick!"

"Trust me, you will," she said. "Now, I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Go home this instant!"

Of course, she was right, and it would be a month before I was allowed to come back to the newspaper, finally free of the last of the roughly 8 million pox that ended up covering me. (I missed the typically less-severe kid version and hit the "jackpot" with adult onset.)

In retrospect, I've wondered if my body was at its breaking point, and my brain was being an obstinate idiot about it, so it had to come up with something that would absolutely prevent me from going into work. Chicken pox did the trick.

Now, this might not be a similar thing with Parker. But it sure seems like it. When you look at the last three years for her, you can't help but think her body and mind finally conspired to shut her down to really recover.

From March 2007 to June 2010, Parker won two NCAA titles with Tennessee, was the WNBA's top draft pick by Los Angeles in 2008, earned the '08 WNBA MVP and rookie of the year awards, won an Olympic gold medal, competed in the WNBA playoffs, got married, had a baby daughter in May '09, came back to play in the '09 WNBA season, led L.A. to the Western Conference finals, went overseas to compete, returned as the face of the Sparks, was carrying the team and then …

Her shoulder, which had been an issue going back to her time in Knoxville, apparently had been through enough. On June 13 against Minnesota, she dislocated it again, and this time it was decided surgery was needed.

Parker had led Tennessee to the '08 NCAA championship despite that shoulder popping out twice during the regional final against Texas A&M. She just accepted the pain and played through it. She has been doing that ever since.

I think when athletes are enormously gifted physically, as Parker is, we sometimes don't give them the tags that we do less-talented players. For the latter, we say things like "scrappy," "doggedly determined" and "gamer." But the reality is, all those things apply to Parker.

Her dedication to basketball, her leadership of her team and her role as one of the most prominent faces in the WNBA and women's sports is so hard-wired, it's almost to the point of obstinacy. There's nothing Parker believes she can't handle … but maybe her shoulder is telling her, "It's OK. Take a few months. Let me heal. Let yourself rest. You're 24. There's lots of time left."

For the Sparks, yes, she is irreplaceable, especially right now with Lisa Leslie having retired after last season. Parker was averaging 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds, and you're not going to find that in many other players anywhere in the league.

So Los Angeles' tough season just got tougher. The Sparks decided to go with a lot of veteran leadership and experience to complement Parker this year, and the plan has not worked out well thus far.

Does that mean the Sparks have no chance to salvage this season and make the playoffs? No, it doesn't. This team still has talent. I think it's a lot to ask Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones to stave off the ravages of time and play as if they're five years younger than they actually are. But they are among the players in the WNBA that I think are capable of somehow doing that.

Maybe this is where we find out just how much growth potential and maturity there is in players such as Noelle Quinn, Kristi Toliver and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. They're all 25 or younger and should have pretty much boundless energy at this point in their careers. Parker being out, as devastating as it is, means there is a void to be filled that they should see as a tremendous opportunity.

Whatever happens with the Sparks, that is not Parker's worry now. This is a time to focus on taking care of herself and realize it's more than OK to do so. It's absolutely necessary.

Can 2-7 Lynx turn it around?

June, 7, 2010
06/07/10
7:38
PM ET

It's really folly to believe in the idea of franchises being jinxed, isn't it? In any professional sports league, if you consistently struggle, it pretty much has to come down to it being your fault, right? There's no such thing as just perpetual bad luck. There is such a thing as continual management missteps that seep down to coaching moves and player performance, though.

[+] Enlarge
Lynx
AP Photo/A.J. OlmscheidCandice Wiggins, Nicky Anosike and the Lynx (2-7) play just one more home game in June.

Yet, it can feel like a team is under a constant hex. And while it's probably still too early in the WNBA's history to proclaim any of its franchises to be, say, "Clippers-like" in terms of never-ceasing bad mojo, if any WNBA team were to be proclaimed as such, it would have to be the Minnesota Lynx.

Oh, I know. It's still too soon this season to begin burial preparations for the Lynx. After all, if there's generally one truism about the WNBA, it's that often just when a team appears unequivocally headed in a certain direction, it changes course.

It's just the start of June, and so a lot can still happen in the remainder of the regular season to take the pain out of what right now appears to be a giant toothache of a season for the Lynx.

But it might be as bad as it looks. Or … yikes … it might get worse. Although despairing Minnesota fans might say to that, "Really? How?"

Admittedly, the Lynx technically don't have the league's worst record. That belongs to the 1-6 Sparks, who also are obviously unhappy. But Los Angeles has lost its games by an average of just 7.7 points, including two excruciating one-point losses to Phoenix. The Sparks should be very irritated, but not completely dispirited.

The Lynx, though, might be only a step away from demoralized. They are 2-7, and while that's one more victory than the Sparks, Minnesota's losses are by an average of 16.9 points. And the misery was punctuated by Sunday's 38-point defeat at home to Indiana -- the 89-51 blowout being the Lynx's worst pounding this season.

Yes, Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen missed the game because of an "undisclosed" illness, and forward Seimone Augustus is still out after abdominal surgery. Plus it's a bad time right now to face the Fever -- it might stay that way the rest of the season -- as the defending Eastern Conference champs have won three in a row and five of their last six.

Still, this is exactly opposite of what the Lynx were hoping for this summer. After an offseason trade to bring home-state legend Whalen home, Minnesota looked poised to change its fortunes. The Lynx have made the playoffs just twice in their previous 11 seasons, but a young, talented team with Whalen's leadership at point guard was supposed to make 2010 a very different story.

And, as mentioned, it still could be. Hey, it was just a week ago -- June 1 -- that the Lynx defeated 2009 WNBA champion Phoenix. After a rough start to the season, that looked like a potential turning point.

But then came a 92-79 loss to Tulsa on Friday, followed by the truly awful game against the Fever. How bad was it versus Indiana? Try 20.7 percent shooting from the field by the Lynx (12 of 58).

Admittedly, Indiana's defense is very good. But come on. The Lynx should be able to shoot as if they're not catastrophically visually impaired even against the Fever, and even without Whalen.

This was primarily a guard/wing problem, with three principle offenders: rookie Monica Wright (1 of 13), recently back-from-injury Candice Wiggins (1 of 8), and sometimes-also-went-cold-at-North Carolina Rashanda McCants (0 of 6).

Wright started her first WNBA season well, scoring 18 points at Tulsa in a victory on May 15. And in the Lynx's other win, against the Mercury, she had 32 points. But there have been some rough waters otherwise for Wright, who finished college as the Virginia program's all-time leading scorer.

She has taken more shots, 127, than any Lynx player thus far, but has made just 40 of them (31.5 percent). As a team, Minnesota is shooting a league-worst 37.7 percent from the field, while allowing its opponents to shoot 44.4 percent.

Coach Cheryl Reeve summed it up Sunday by saying, "We are a bad basketball team," and you've got to figure nobody is more surprised about this than she is. Reeve apprenticed under Bill Laimbeer at Detroit and seemed very ready to have her chance at running the show with the Lynx. Which she got when Jennifer Gillom left to coach the Sparks.

Reeve didn't dodge high preseason expectations. To the contrary, she embraced them, saying it was time for the Lynx to take some big steps forward, including making the playoffs. And she fully endorsed the Whalen deal that sent the No. 1 pick to Connecticut, which used it to select Tina Charles (who -- no surprise -- is leading all rookies in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, blocks and efficiency rating).

Reeve might have underestimated the effect and duration of the various injuries Minnesota has dealt with. And team chemistry perhaps has been more elusive because of that.

And, unfortunately, we've saved the worst part for last, Lynx fans. Minnesota has only one home game left in June, which will be on the 18th, against Tulsa. From Thursday, June 10, through July 1, the Lynx have six of their next seven games on the road. Which could be lethal for a team trying to right itself.

Then again, considering how horrible Sunday's game must have looked to the home fans at the Target Center, maybe the road is not such a bad place after all for the Lynx.

Next stop: Tuesday's doubleheader

May, 24, 2010
05/24/10
3:50
PM ET

So here we are a week into the WNBA season, and everything is working out precisely as we all thought it would to this point, right? Not entirely.

Chicago's struggles? Not very surprising. But Atlanta's hot start? I admit I wasn't expecting the Dream to race to a 4-0 record.

What about Los Angeles being winless? Well, not a huge stunner, considering the Sparks' opening three games were on the road. But with six of its next eight at home, L.A. has a chance to effectively negate the slow beginning. Still, this might be an intense week at practice for the Sparks. Because there were moments in Saturday's loss at San Antonio where Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom looked ready to really go Vesuvius on her team.

And what an upbeat Silver Stars debut for Chamique Holdsclaw, wasn't it? She had 19 points and five assists for San Antonio against L.A., and seemed to bring a lot of energy to the AT&T Center. So far, it doesn't appear that Holdsclaw's departure is hurting Atlanta, while her arrival has helped the Silver Stars. "Chamique Part IV" is off to a good launch, and now just needs to stay on course.

Overall, it has been an entertaining start to the WNBA. And Tuesday offers a doubleheader with each game providing a very different story line. At 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, defending WNBA champion Phoenix visits Tulsa. Then at 10 p.m. ET, Washington is at Seattle, with the Storm leading the Western Conference at 3-0.

The Mercury-Mystics game is scheduled to be available online with WNBA Live Access, which fans hope is truly "accessible." The webcasts have had some glitches early on, not unlike some of the teams themselves.

The Storm, though, have been glitch-free so far, including an overtime win at Phoenix on Saturday. The Storm's Lauren Jackson seems to be uber-motivated every time she faces the Mercury, and that was the case again as she had 25 points and eight rebounds.

Whenever a team goes into Phoenix and "steals" a victory on the Mercury's home court, it's almost like winning two games instead of one. That said, the Storm will have to consolidate it by slowing down a Mystics team that is 3-1, with the loss coming at Connecticut.

Entering the season, I thought the Mystics had legitimate high expectations to be a playoff contender even without injured Alana Beard. And Tuesday's game in Seattle could be one of those potential early season statement games for the Mystics if they win.

As for the Tulsa-Phoenix game, too many key Shock players are no longer with the franchise for the game to remind us very much of the 2007 WNBA finals that went the distance between Detroit and Phoenix. And, of course, Cappie Pondexter is not with the Mercury anymore, either.

But what's interesting with this matchup is the concept of pitting a high-octane offense like Phoenix's against a Tulsa team that is, Shock coach Nolan Richardson hopes, learning what "40 minutes of hell" is really about defensively. And with Tulsa having gotten its first victory, a double-digit win at Minnesota on Sunday, the Shock at least now can bring some legitimate confidence against the preseason favorite.