Thursday, June 20, 2024

New-look Sparks fall to Atlanta in season opener

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  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket during the...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket during the second half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Lexie Brown, left, drives to the basket during...

    Sparks guard Lexie Brown, left, drives to the basket during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Cameron Brink controls the ball as Atlanta Dream...

    Sparks forward Cameron Brink controls the ball as Atlanta Dream forward Cheyenne Parker-Tyus, left, defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield, left, during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks fans cheer during the first half of the team’s...

    Sparks fans cheer during the first half of the team’s season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard drives to the basket as...

    Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard drives to the basket as Sparks guard Kia Nurse defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks head coach Curt Miller reacts on the sideline during...

    Sparks head coach Curt Miller reacts on the sideline during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks rookie forward Cameron Brink controls the ball in front...

    Sparks rookie forward Cameron Brink controls the ball in front of Atlanta Dream forward Cheyenne Parker-Tyus during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, right, drives to the basket during...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, right, drives to the basket during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon passes the ball during the first...

    Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon passes the ball during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Jordin Canada, who sat out, watches from...

    Atlanta Dream guard Jordin Canada, who sat out, watches from the bench during the first half of their season opener against the Sparks on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream guard Aerial Powers defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon (25) gestures after scoring during the...

    Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon (25) gestures after scoring during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles, right, drives to the basket...

    Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles, right, drives to the basket as Sparks rookie Cameron Brink defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks head coach Curt Miller reacts on the sideline during...

    Sparks head coach Curt Miller reacts on the sideline during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard, left, drives to the basket...

    Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard, left, drives to the basket as Sparks guard Kia Nurse defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Cameron Brink, front, controls the ball as Atlanta...

    Sparks forward Cameron Brink, front, controls the ball as Atlanta Dream forward Cheyenne Parker-Tyus defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard handles the ball as Sparks...

    Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard handles the ball as Sparks guard Kia Nurse, center, defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson shoots in front of Atlanta...

    Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson shoots in front of Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles looks to shoot during the...

    Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles looks to shoot during the first half of their season opener against the Sparks on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Cameron Brink passes the ball as Atlanta Dream...

    Sparks forward Cameron Brink passes the ball as Atlanta Dream forward Cheyenne Parker-Tyus defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby handles the ball as Atlanta Dream...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby handles the ball as Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks guard Zia Cooke drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream forward Nia Coffey defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Kia Nurse drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks guard Kia Nurse drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard defends during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson drives to the basket during...

    Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson drives to the basket during the first half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Young Sparks fans cheer during the first half of the...

    Young Sparks fans cheer during the first half of the team’s season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, left, battles for the ball against...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, left, battles for the ball against Atlanta Dream center Tina Charles during the first half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Lakers legend Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie watch from...

    Lakers legend Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie watch from courtside seats during the first half of the Sparks’ WNBA season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield, left, brings the ball up...

    Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield, left, brings the ball up the court during the first half of their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield reaches for a rebound in...

    Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield reaches for a rebound in front of Sparks forward Dearica Hamby during the second half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks rookie Cameron Brink, right, loses control of the ball...

    Sparks rookie Cameron Brink, right, loses control of the ball as Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard defends during the second half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream guard Crystal Dangerfield defends during the second half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon reacts after a foul during the...

    Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon reacts after a foul during the second half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby controls the ball next to teammate...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby controls the ball next to teammate Layshia Clarendon during the second half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket as Atlanta...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket as Atlanta Dream forward Naz Hillmon defends during the second half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks guard Lexie Brown drives to the basket against Atlanta...

    Sparks guard Lexie Brown drives to the basket against Atlanta Dream guard Allisha Gray, left, during the second half of their season opener on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Lakers legend Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie cheer during...

    Lakers legend Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie cheer during the second half of the Sparks’ WNBA season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket during the...

    Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket during the second half of their season opener against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

LONG BEACH — The new-look Sparks could not overcome an 11-0 run by the Atlanta Dream to start the fourth quarter and dropped their season opener, 92-81, in front of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and team owner Magic Johnson on Wednesday night at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.

The score was tied at 66 through three quarters, but Atlanta seized control with its pivotal 11-0 run for a 77-66 lead with 6:29 left.

The Sparks cut Atlanta’s lead to 87-81 on rookie forward Cameron Brink’s 3-pointer with 1:34 remaining, but they missed their last four shots and had a critical turnover while Atlanta went 5 for 6 from the foul line to ice the win.

“I take it as my responsibility that a lot of the starters got tired at the end of the third quarter all at one time,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said. “I have to substitute more players at one time at the start of the fourth quarter. That 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, ultimately, was a hard situation to dig out of but we never quit. We really battled and showed our scrappiness that we’re going to be defined by this year. It’s a great learning lesson for our young post players in Cam and Rickea to go against one of the best ever in Tina Charles.”

The Sparks made significant changes to their roster after missing the WNBA playoffs for the third consecutive season, saying goodbye to several veterans and bringing in some fresh faces in addition to their pair of first-round draft picks. Newly acquired guard Kia Nurse scored a team-high 23 points, going 5 for 11 from 3-point range in her Sparks debut after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Storm.

“I do think for me personally it’s been a long road and a long journey coming back from the ACL (injury) and last year mentality I just didn’t feel like myself,” Nurse said. “This is a nice place to start. I think I said to my partner before the game I was like I just want to make all my family and everyone that was around me proud and he was like you need to make yourself proud. The loss is not as exciting, but it’s a proud moment to be able to play and feel more like myself out there.”

Sparks forward Dearica Hamby had a double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds), while guard Layshia Clarendon had her first career triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Both players said they are looking to make a major impact this season.

“I just came into camp very clear-minded and had very clear intentions on what I wanted this season to look like for me personally and what I wanted to help this team do,” Hamby said.

Clarendon said she sensed she was playing a strong all-around game but was unaware of her triple-double.

“I think it’s cool. Every game stats don’t always reflect how good you play or how hard you played, so I think it’s cool to actually see that come out,” Clarendon said. “I didn’t realize I had that many rebounds, never know assists because I don’t count them. I knew I was playing well, sometimes you make the right pass and people don’t make the shot. They told me afterward and I was a little surprised but I was like ‘oh yeah, I was ballin’ so it’s pretty cool to get that, not a lot of people do it.”

Brink, the No. 2 overall pick in last month’s WNBA draft, finished with 11 points (two 3-pointers), four assists, two rebounds, two blocked shots and five personal fouls in 20 minutes.

“Cam has to find a way to stay out of foul trouble because she’s so important to what we’re doing,” Miller explained. “She helps spread the floor offensively. She’s a really good distributor of the ball as a 6-5 person, so she can create opportunities for her teammates. Defensively, she’s great rim protection but when you play three minutes in the first stretch and have to sit down, that’s a big blow.”

Sparks rookie forward Rickea Jackson – the No. 4 overall pick last month – added seven points and three rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.

“(Jackson) can find her own offense, that’s what’s special about her. When plays break down and people take you out of your system, she can go make plays,” Miller said. “That’s not common with everybody in the league.”

The Sparks began the game with a 24-second shot clock violation on their first offensive possession.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie playing in your first ever WNBA game like Cam and Rickea will be or you’re a seasoned veteran, everybody is going to have nerves tonight,” Miller said before the game.

However, the Sparks recovered and began the game on a 9-2 run, with five early points from Clarendon, which forced Atlanta coach Tanisha Wright to call timeout less than three minutes into the game.

The Sparks’ starting lineup was Clarendon, Lexie Brown, Nurse, Hamby and Brink, who had three points and one assist early but only played 3:21 in the first quarter before exiting the game with her second personal foul.

“That starting unit was terrific … that group has had a chemistry, really quickly and we’re going to bring that bench along,” Miller continued. “The bench is better than they played tonight and they know it, we know it. We have confidence in them but really proud of that starting unit, they’ve all been asked to take on a more prominent role with this team and they’re embracing it and I can’t wait to keep working with that starting unit.”

Atlanta (1-0) was led by All-Star guard Rhyne Howard (25 points) and shook off its slow start behind Allisha Gray’s outside shooting (two 3-pointers in the first quarter) and tied the score at 26 heading into the second quarter.

Atlanta veteran center Tina Charles took over and scored 11 points in the first six minutes of the second quarter, as the Dream opened a 41-32 advantage. Charles finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Gray finished with 12 points.

The Sparks responded with a 14-5 run and tied the score at 46 on a pair of Nurse free throws with 36 seconds left before halftime. Jackson stole the ball at midcourt and made a buzzer-beating layup, which tied the score at 48-all at halftime.

The Sparks shot 17 for 32 from the field in the first half (53.1%), including 7 for 14 from behind the arc. Hamby had 13 points and six rebounds at halftime. The Sparks cooled off in the second half and finished the night at 39% from the field but they had 24 assists on their 28 field goals.

“A couple things bounce our way, a couple runs go our way a little bit differently early in that fourth probably, we win that game and with that energy and that effort and the chemistry we played with today, we’re going to win a lot games in this league,” Nurse said.

Atlanta point guard Haley Jones finished with 14 points and four assists in a start for Jordin Canada, who played the past two seasons with the Sparks but missed the game with a right hand injury.

The Sparks (0-1) next play at the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday at noon in a nationally televised game on ABC.

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