Forget fatigue; L.A. riding plenty of momentum

Updated: August 23, 2006, 6:43 PM ET
By Miki Turner | Special to ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Sacramento Monarchs have played nearly flawless ball in the playoffs, sweeping the Comets with sensational shooting (just better than 50 percent from the field) and have had four days to rest and assess the competition.

WEST FINALS AT A GLANCE
The Sparks owned the Monarchs in the regular season, going 3-0 vs. the defending WNBA champs. L.A.'s Mwadi Mabika stole the show, averaging 22.3 ppg and shooting 58 percent (25-of-43) from the field in the series. Her seven 3-pointers in the first meeting tied the WNBA single-game record.

THE SERIES
DATE RESULT HIGH SCORER
June 18 Sparks 80, Monarchs 69 M. Mabika, L.A. (27)
June 23 Sparks 77, Monarch 63 M. Mabika, L.A. (24)
Aug. 9 Sparks 69, Monarchs 58 L. Leslie, L.A. (18); K. Lawson, Sac. (18)

And, let us not forget, the Monarchs are the defending WNBA champions.

On the other end of their Western Conference finals matchup awaits Los Angeles, which advanced after winning two elimination games against Seattle. The Sparks didn't shoot the ball all that well, might be without Chamique Holdsclaw, who has been nursing a sore left foot, and have had only one day to prepare.

But this just in: "Didn't we sweep Sacramento?" Sparks center Lisa Leslie said when asked about her team's chances against the Monarchs. "Yes, it's a new season, so everything is 0-0, but we're confident with the success that we've had against them."

It's true, the Sparks, who are making their first appearance in the West finals -- which open Thursday in Sacramento (10 p.m. ET) -- in three years, did win all three of their regular-season matchups against the Monarchs, with the smallest margin of victory being 11 points and the largest being 14.

But it's also true that the Monarchs knocked the Sparks out of the semifinals last year en route to their first WNBA title. That's the memory that is still lingering in Sparks coach Joe Bryant's playbook.

"What I remember last year when I took over is that we lost to Sacramento in the playoffs -- they swept us," Bryant said, chuckling as he added, "The whole winter I sat around drawing up plays just to beat Sacramento. We've been very successful during the course of the season, but as you well know, it really doesn't mean anything. They're a full force now and more aggressive than ever. We're looking forward to going up there."

Getting there is no problem. You hop on the jet and go. But endurance might be a factor for the Sparks coming off a physical series against Seattle and facing the Monarchs on one day's rest. Bryant and Leslie, however, didn't think it would be an issue.

"During the course of the year, I try to rest most of my players," Bryant said. "If you look at the minutes played, Lisa probably average d 30 and Holdsclaw averaged 29. Everyone else is kind of in the 18 to 20 to 25 [range]. It would have been a concern if I were playing the starters 36, 38 minutes or whatever. So, no, it's not a concern."

Added Leslie: "We've been playing physical all season. You get a day of rest, a bag of ice and get back out there. This is what we do. You talk about being two games away from the championship -- let's roll!"

Seattle coach Anne Donovan, however, thinks it might be difficult for the Sparks to pull it all together on the road with such a quick turnaround.

"That's very difficult, coming off of this series as physical as it was, as taxing as it was with as many minutes that have been played by the key players," Donovan said Tuesday following her team's loss. "Sacramento's been resting and scouting."

Donovan is picking "Sacramento all the way" if the Monarchs continue "scorching the nets the way they have been."

Center Yolanda Griffith leads the Monarchs in scoring during the playoffs with 16.5 points per game. Other players averaging double digits include Kara Lawson (14.0 ppg), DeMya Walker (12.5 ppg) and Rebekkah Brunson (12 ppg).

The Sparks have been paced by Leslie's 15.3 ppg and Mwadi Mabika's 13 ppg. Mabika's scoring was key during the regular season when she twice led the Sparks in scoring against the Monarchs, tallying 27 points in the first game and 24 in the second.

To maintain their successful streak against the Monarchs, the Sparks know they'll have to keep doing what they've been doing, but at even a higher level than before.

"All year long I think that [the Monarchs] felt that they were being really disrespected and not spoken about," Leslie said. "I've always been the one saying you've got to keep an eye on Sacramento. We're just going to have to come out and sustain our defense against them. We've been playing really good defense and that's what we're going to have to hang our hats on.

"We read their defense and play opposite the way that they're doing and that's why we've been successful against them. And in regard to them shooting the ball well, I don't know if they can shoot any better [than Seattle]. They were knocking down 2 everywhere. So I think we're ready to go after the shooters and get a hand in their face."

Miki Turner, a freelance TV producer and writer in Los Angeles, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.

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