LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Sparks have Lin Dunn’s vote as the best team in the WNBA right now.
The Indiana Fever coach came away impressed after the Sparks kept rolling with a 94-72 win Friday night that pulled Los Angeles even with Western Conference-leading Minnesota.
Kristi Toliver scored 28 points to lead the Sparks (18-7) to their season high-tying sixth straight win. Candace Parker added 18 points and Nneka Ogwumike had 16 points and seven rebounds.
“I don’t think there’s any question that L.A. is the team to beat right now at this particular time in the season,” Dunn said. “Can they maintain that through the playoffs? We’ll wait and see.”
Toliver scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished 11 for 15 from the field to head a 63 percent shooting night for Los Angeles, which is 6-1 since the All-Star break, including a 4-1 road trip. Toliver likes what she sees.
“We kind of understand the pace that we want to play offensively, and defensively we’ve just gotten tougher and have been taking things personally -gang rebounding,” Toliver said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re on the right track.”
Tamika Catchings and Erin Phillips each scored 16 points to lead the Fever (11-13), who dropped into fourth place in the East, one-half game behind Washington. Injury-plagued Indiana, which played a third straight game without Shavonte Zellous because of plantar fasciitis, lost guard Karima Christmas to a left hip injury late in the third. Christmas was helped off the court. Dunn did not know her status.
“I don’t know, but I certainly don’t like it when someone’s being carried off,” Dunn said.
The 94 points were the most allowed this season by Indiana, which entered the game ranked first in the WNBA at 68.3 points per game allowed. The Fever cut the deficit to seven points in the third but trailed by double digits all through the fourth.
Dunn acknowledged that depth is an issue with a short bench.
“When we start subbing, it’s scary,” she said. “It’s when we start subbing, we really miss a (Katie) Douglas or a Zellous or a (Jessica) Davenport.
“One of the things that’s affecting us right now is the number of games we had to play with eight people. We played so many of those guys – Karima in particular – 35-36 minutes . I think it’s starting to take a little bit of a toll on us. We need some rest.”
Toliver scored 16 of L.A.’s first 26 points, on 7-for-9 shooting. She made a jumper over Erlana Larkins, a long step-back jumper and converted a left-hand finger roll. Toliver made a long straightaway jumper to end the third quarter and sank a 3-pointer in the fourth to push the lead to 79-62.
“It’s easy when you’re opening things up and you’re getting those easy back doors,” said Toliver, who was one-point short of a career high. “I think we’re just all feeling more comfortable offensively together, reading one another. Everybody’s really doing their job. When we do that, we’re successful.”
Ogwumike scored eight points in the final six minutes of the first half to help give L.A. a 49-37 lead at the break. She made all five field-goal attempts, including a finish of an alley-oop pass from Lindsey Harding.
Christmas completed an 11-5 run for Indiana with a 3-pointer to make it 35-28, but the Sparks scored 10 of the next 15 points. The 49 points – on 63 percent shooting – were the most allowed in the first half this season by Indiana.
Catchings said it was difficult seeing another teammate injured.
“I just want people to just jump back up,” said Catchings, who became the eighth player in WNBA history to reach 12,000 minutes played. “I just can’t imagine somebody else going down – not right now. She’s been a crucial part to our team this year. She’s really stepped up our game offensively and defensively, and become one of our main defensive stoppers on the perimeter.”
Jantel Lavender scored 10 points for her sixth straight game in double-digit scoring.
Phillips scored her 1,000th career point in the second quarter.