LOS ANGELES – In the midst of their worst start and their longest losing streak in eight years, the Lynx began making a necessary transition Sunday.
Alexis Jones and Cecilia Zandalasini played career highs of 28 and 19 minutes, respectively, during a 77-69 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.
With that defeat, the Lynx (2-5) sustained their fourth consecutive loss. Not since 2010 had they lost that many in succession. Not since 2010, when they began 1-5, have the Lynx started so poorly.
Jones consumed the minutes usually allocated to Lindsay Whalen, while Zandalasini took Rebekkah Brunson’s place. Though both veterans started, Brunson played 17 minutes and Whalen only seven, season lows for both. The team said guard Tanisha Wright missed the game for personal reasons.
“We’re managing the health of our players, so I thought I’d take better care of them,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “In the case of Brunson, I just haven’t been good to her. I can’t play her 35 minutes like I have been playing her. I just want to be more responsible.
“It’s a long season, and there are players who are more effective when the minutes aren’t as high. That’s the place where we’re in.”
Does this start the transition from the lineup that gave the Lynx four WNBA titles?
“I think it has to happen,” Reeve said. “We have players on the bench who can play and deserve opportunities. It doesn’t feel good to run anybody into the ground and you’re only six games into the season.”
In her 28 minutes, Jones had 10 points, three rebounds, an assist and a block. Until Sunday, Jones played no more than 10 minutes in any game.
Zandalasini, a 22-year-old from Italy, scored just two points but had five rebounds and two assists.
Maya Moore scored a team-high 18 points, Sylvia Fowles added 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Danielle Robinson scored 12. But turnovers and sporadic offense continued to plague the Lynx.
The Lynx committed 18 turnovers, which the Sparks (4-1) converted into 26 points.
After taking a 6-4 lead, the Lynx missed six of their next 10 shots and Los Angeles built a 20-12 advantage with 51.7 seconds left in the first quarter. Fowles spent the final 6:05 of that period on the bench after getting her second foul.
The Lynx narrowed their deficit to 40-38 at halftime, then took a 43-42 lead with 1:52 gone in the third quarter. But an 8-0 surge enabled the Sparks to surge ahead 50-43 with 5:19 left in the period and they led 56-48 after three quarters.
The Sparks’ Candace Parker amassed game highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in just her second game. Chelsea Gray contributed 15 points and six assists.
“I think we’re definitely being more aggressive,” Fowles said. “We’re getting to the hole. We’re getting to the free-throw line. But our turnovers are still kicking us in the butt. So we’ve just got to take care of the ball. Once we do that, I’m pretty sure we’ll find our groove.”
“Every season is hard but this season has had its hardness in it in a unique way,” Moore said. “Sometimes, you take for granted teams going through hard things. A lot of times, you can break apart. A lot of times, you can start finger pointing.
“I think, collectively, we’re learning more and more what needs to happen and come in with that passion, that energy. Now, we just have to put together passion and execution. I’m confident we’ll get there. We just have to make it happen.”