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Sparks get off to fast start, coast to 96-70 win

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The Liberty had no answers for the Sparks frontcourt.

Los Angeles Sparks v New York Liberty Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sparks have had a depth advantage relative to the other teams in the Wubble all season. They were one of the few teams to bring in 12 healthy players and have had at least 11 available for every game this season — until Tuesday against the New York Liberty.

Sydney Wiese and Brittney Sykes were both injured in the team’s win over Chicago Sunday, leaving Los Angeles down two starters. The Sparks responded by replacing Sykes with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who started at small forward all of 2019, but Ruffin-Pratt suffered a shoulder injury in the first minute and was ruled out of the rest of the game.

The Sparks were undeterred, using their frontcourt dominance to rout the last-place Liberty, 96-70.

L.A. outscored New York 25-12 in the opening period, led by another MVP-worthy effort from Candace Parker. Parker had eight points and four assists in the first quarter, accounting for more points than the Liberty by herself.

The Sparks pushed the lead to 20 in the second quarter before the Liberty made a run at the end of the half. Nneka Ogwumike then picked up where Parker left off. She scored 11 points in the third quarter, and she and Parker ripped apart the New York frontcourt with their high-low actions. L.A. stretched an 11-point halftime lead to 22 by the end of the third.

By then, all that was left to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the final scoreline.

Down three rotation players, two younger Sparks took advantage of the increased opportunity. Rookie Te’a Cooper earned her first start of the season in place of Wiese and chipped in a career-high 15 points and two assists. Her presence was felt in her activity level, as Cooper pushed the pace and drew multiple offensive fouls on the Liberty.

Second-year center Kristine Anigwe also excelled as the backup center. She scored a career-high 14points, added six rebounds, and had a nice pick-and-roll chemistry with Cooper. Anigwe loves to exert her physicality, and this was a perfect matchup for that.

L.A. is currently third in the WNBA standings and is trying to make a push for a top-two seed to earn a double-bye in the postseason and avoid any single-elimination games. It’s unlikely that the Sparks can catch no. 1 Seattle, but a win over Las Vegas in their regular-season finale Saturday would likely vault them past the Aces into no. 2.

The team will probably be without Wiese for the remainder of the regular season as she rehabs her ankle, though Sykes should be back sooner from her abdominal contusion. There is no prognosis yet on Ruffin-Pratt.

The Sparks keep taking care of their own business, though, even while shorthanded, and they have to trust that the standings will work out in their favor so long as they continue do so. One more game against Washington awaits Thursday before the rematch against Las Vegas.