Sparks go winless on three-game homestand as injuries continue to take a toll

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Seeing three top players on the bench dressed in street clothes is getting to be a familiar, yet tiring sight for the Sparks as they lost their fourth straight game Sunday, falling 84-74 to the Seattle Storm at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

With injured stars Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver reduced to coaching roles, Brittney Sykes had 19 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high five assists, but the Sparks (6-11) were overpowered by 21 points from former most valuable player Breanna Stewart and 20 points and nine rebounds from center Ezi Magbegor.

Losers of six of their last seven, the Sparks went winless in their three-game homestand. They now travel to Seattle for a rematch Wednesday before hosting the Minnesota Lynx next Sunday in the final game before a monthlong Olympic break.

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Slogging through a four-game stretch against the top two teams in the WNBA, the Sparks are left reaching for glimmers of hope amid their slump. On Sunday, it was Sykes’ first double-double of the season and a 12-0 run against the Storm (14-4) that helped them take an eight-point lead in the third quarter.

The surge resembled a strong second half against the Las Vegas Aces on Friday that allowed the Sparks to go ahead in the fourth quarter against a championship favorite. The similarities between the performances continued when the Sparks faded in the fourth quarter as they did against the Aces.

“It’s good that we’re showing the fight and the grit to compete with anybody regardless of who we have in the lineup,” coach Derek Fisher said. “We’re there, but we still have work to do to be closer to have a chance to win these games.”

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The reigning champion Storm held the Sparks scoreless from the field for the final two minutes of the third quarter to cut the deficit to two. They tied the score on the opening possession of the fourth, but from there, there was no coming back against the potent 1-2 punch of Stewart and Magbegor.

Magbegor, a second-year center who averages four points, scored eight in the fourth quarter, emerging as a surprising lift off the bench for a team struggling with injuries too. The Storm were without their second-leading scorer Jewell Loyd because of an ankle injury. Guard Epiphanny Prince scored a season-high 18 points in Loyd’s starting spot.

Sparks guard Erica Wheeler shook off a slow start to finish with 19 points and five assists on six-for-17 shooting. She and Sykes combined to make all 13 of their free throws as the Sparks were a perfect 17 for 17 from the stripe, giving the struggling offense a chance.

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“I’m having so much fun slicing and dicing and cutting up teams on defense,” Sykes said. “I think as games go on, we’ll start to play off of each other. We showed glimpses of it tonight.”

Getting Toliver back could help jump-start things. Toliver, who missed her fourth game because of a laceration above her eye, could return to practice this week.

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