Whicker: Alana Beard leads a Sparkling defensive effort

By in Press Enterprise on August 28, 2017

By Mark Whicker

LOS ANGELES — Afterward, Coach Brian Agler said the Sparks can probably expect to see Minnesota again.

Nothing else would make sense.

The Sparks won the WNBA championship in the final minute of the fifth and final game, at Minnesota. They squared up against the Lynx again Sunday at Staples Center. They hassled the Lynx into 18 turnovers, turned them into 24 points, surgically removed some key offensive parts, and wound up winning, 78-67.

They also performed in front of an announced sellout of 19,282, including Russell Westbrook at courtside.

The Sparks moved to 24-8 and are a half-game behind the Lynx in the WNBA standings. The top two teams get buzzed into the semifinals of the playoffs. The top team gets homecourt, but then L.A. won last year’s Finals without it.

Rivalry can’t happen without respect. The Lakers and Celtics used to say the NBA Finals weren’t the same without each other.

“With them, it’s a battle every single time,’ said Alana Beard. “What makes it special is that we know each other’s every tendency. So it goes deeper than that. It comes down to the intangibles, the 50-50 balls, doing the little things.”

She meant the non-scoring things. There’s nothing insignificant about defense, and the Sparks had 11 steals, including three apiece by Beard and Chelsea Gray.

The Lynx shot 49.2 percent, but Maya Moore, who averages over 17 points, had 10 with no trips to the free-throw line, and didn’t get her first bucket until 5:05 remaining in the second period. Seimone Augustus had nine points, no rebounds.

“You just try to make the shots heard,” said Beard, 35, an 11-year veteran from Duke who was the tip of the defense against Moore, but not the entire bayonet. The Sparks switched often, swarmed the ball, and Essence Carson relieved Beard and gave no relief to […]    

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