By Gary Montgomery
The WNBAs two most consistent teams tossed it up again Monday evening in a season finale well worth the wait. The Sparks, having already wrapped up the division title and sporting a three game lead could have easily mailed this one in.
No way said Coach Michelle Cooper with a grin. This game meant a lot to us, we needed and wanted to win. We have some tough games ahead of us and we needed to start getting tough right here.
The Sparks Mawadi Mabika hit three of four free throw attempts down the stretch to seal the victory in what had to be on of the most physical contests of the year. I think they have trouble guarding us (off the dribble) and thats why the game got so physical said Mawadi Mabika who finished with 19 points.
We had chances to win muttered the Comets fiery center Michelle Snow. We had the chances, but sometimes you just dont make them. The Comets not only had chances to win but also appeared to be well on their way to a season ending win over their rivals from the West.
The game was a seesaw contest with both teams amassing and eventually losing a 10 point lead. With the Comets leading by 10 in the second half, the 10,118 screaming Sparks fans were feeling a bit nervous.
As if leaping from a telephone booth, Tameka Dixon scored 6 points and handed out 2 assists in a little over 4 minutes, including a driving reverse bounce pass to Mwadi Mabika that brought the crowd to its feet. Weve played together a long time, we know each others game said Dixon when asked about the play of the night. Dixon finished with 19 points to match Mabika for high scoring honors.
Lisa Leslie was held to just 8 points after scoring a season high 31 points on Saturday against San Antonio. Leslies 14 rebounds made up for her single figure scoring. All-star point guard Nikke Teasley finished with 6 points and 2 assists. DeLisha Milton had 15 points and 2 rebounds. Were working toward the top (of our games) Everybodys doing their jobs and were playing better Said Milton about their effort.
The Sparks victory served notice should the teams meet again in the conference finals. The Comets have lost five of their last six games and are limping into the playoffs with lots of uncertainty. Most telling is their inability to score at times. Teams have learned how to defend Swoopes and forced the Comets to look elsewhere for scoring.
Usually that comes from all-star Tina Thompson who matched Dixon and Mabika with 19 points also. Talented center Michelle Snow is capable of delivering but has often struggled against the Sparks.
With Lisa Leslies healthy return, The two-time defending champion Sparks are the most talented team in the WNBA. Thats not to say that the Sparks are assured smooth sailing all the way to the championship. The champs have lost two of their big people, forward Latesha Byers and Center Rhonda Mapp. Longtime Sparks fans will remember that was one of the teams weaknesses before becoming champions. Both Byers and Mapp were brought in to assist Lisa in the paint.
The Champs are short handed and a little banged up, but with an opportunity to match the Lakers three-peat you can bet the Sparks will accept nothing less than another banner hanging in Staples Center.
The Sparks will open their title defense tonight, in Minnesota against the Links and Katie Smith, the leagues 5th leading scorer. Game two will be at Staples on Saturday.
G. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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