Preview: Los Angeles Sparks Season Opener
No, not the Lakers—they’re too busy giving Mike Brown lessons on how to handle Kobe.
It’s L.A.’s other professional basketball team, the WNBA Sparks, that’ll be hitting the paint Friday at Staples Center to face the Minnesota Lynx.
And in this, its 15th season, the WNBA isn’t wasting any time kicking into high gear.
Friday’s match-up amounts to a showdown between two of the league’s brightest young stars, Candace Parker and Maya Moore.
Sparks’ forward Parker missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, effectively ending L.A.’s championships hopes (they were knocked out in the conference semis).
Friday marks her return to the floor, and expectations couldn’t be higher.
“She’s our go-to player,” said second-year head coach Jennifer Gillom. “We really want her coming back focused this year and being a leader.”
Going up against the face of the Sparks will be the rookie Moore--University of Connecticut superstar, 2011 No. 1 draft pick, and the first ever woman to sign an endorsement deal with the immensely popular Jordan shoe brand.
Again, if expectations were any higher, there’d be a hole in the roof.
Currently, Parker holds the record for best rookie debut in a regular season game (34 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists in 2008)—could Moore have a chance to break it Friday?
If her lackluster preseason appearances are an indication, Parker’s record is safe for now, but the Lynx have a strong group of starters in Moore and veterans Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus.
The Lynx hope this talented trio may be enough to push Minnesota past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Backing up Parker are eight-time All-Star Tina Thompson and longtime starters Delisha Milton-Jones and Ticha Penicheiro. A couple of standout offseason additions to the roster are Ebony Hoffman, who won the Most Improved Player award in 2008 and helped the Indiana Fever reach the finals in 2009, and top draft pick Jantel Lavender out of Ohio State University.
“She makes us taller, and the one thing you can’t coach is height,” owner Kathy Goodman said of Lavender. “She’s a great, great player, and we’re really looking forward to having her on the team.
When it comes to getting these stars to shine not just Friday, but all season, Gillom has been drilling them on defense.
“If we can improve defensively, I think we can win a championship,” she said.
It’s been a nine-year championship drought for the Sparks since winning back-to-back trophies in 2001 and 2002.
“I think that’s what the L.A. sparks are missing,” said Gillom. “You know how fans love to follow a championship team, and that’s what we’re trying to bring back. That’s what I would love to do my second year here.”
Watch a video about the Sparks' preseason open tryout and upcoming season: