"The Lynx took that fourth quarter over," first-year L.A. Sparks coach Carol Ross said after her team's 92-84 loss on Thursday at Target Center. "I think some of it was fatigue on our part. We're a little short-handed in some spots."
Indeed, center Nicky Anosike, a former Lynx, missed her third consecutive regular-season game of the season with a strained knee. She is day-to-day. Anosike was on the bench in street clothes.
Guard Sharnee Zoll, who has a torn left ACL, was not with the team.
But like the Sparks, the Lynx also played only nine players. Forward Amber Harris, who has a sprained left ankle, looked almost ready to come back. She participated in pre-game warm-ups. Guard Erin Thorn did not play because the Lynx did not put her in the game.
"Good teams find ways to win," Ross said. "The Lynx are the measuring stick for everybody in the league right now. I'm proud of how we competed and fought."
The Sparks had three players with 20 points or more: forward Candace Parker and guard Kristi Toliver had 23 points apiece, rookie Nneka Ogwumike had 20.
"They're good," said Ross, asked about veterans Parker and Toliver. "They do have good chemistry and thery work well together. They are obviously a big cog in the offense. [Kristi] looks like [the] Toliver I've always seen. You know she has great offensive skills. She's got gifts on the offensive end.
"I think the most impressive thing is, she has been really tough and aggressive on the defensive end. So she's really playing both ends with a lot of passion and energy."
Toliver made three of seven shots from behind the arc, was eight for eight from the free throw line and had four assists.
L.A. PLAYERS' REACTION
"They're a tough team," Parker said, referring to the Lynx. "THey are the defending champions. They definitely have a target on their back. Everybody is going to be hunting for them."
The Lynx know that, of course, and keep winning. They have won nine games in a row going back to the WNBA playoffs last season and they are 17-1 at home in their last 18 games.
"I think we are taking to [the loss] just fine," said veteran Sparks guard Alana Beard, whom the Sparks signed Feb. 8 as a free agent. "You can see in our previous two games [versus Seattle], we won because of our defense. [Thursday] we lost because of our defense. ... We can go back and look at this tape and realize some of our mistakes and get back to what we're good at."
Beard had eight points but did not fill up the stats column too muxch: one rebound, one assist, one steals on the positive side, two turnovers, five fouls on the negative.
Beard had been with the Washington Mystics the first eight years of her WNBA career, but she did not play in the 2010 season because of an ankle injury and the 2011 season because of a foot injury.
"I feel good," she said. "I am happy to be back and playing with them, the concept of a team again and body feeling healthy."
BIG O CONTRIBUTES
Ogwumike, the No. 1 overall pick in last month's WNBA draft, had nine rebounds besides her efficient game on offense. She was seven for 10 from the field and made all six free throws she took.
Still she was not happy. "I felt like we were in control for most of the game," Ogwumike said. "We kind of let it slide a little in the beginning and at the end."
The Sparks were outscored 30-19 in the first quarter and 26-14 in the fourth.
"Coach [Ross] was telling us you can only think of positives out of this," Ogwumike said. "We knew we could have won it, but obviously they did things better than we did in order to pull out the 'W'. "