Thompson, Lennox lead Sparks past injury-riddled Shock

LOS ANGELES -- Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks were as good as advertised.

Tina Thompson had 18 points, Betty Lennox added 17 points and 10 rebounds and the Sparks easily defeated the defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock 78-58 on Saturday in the WNBA season opener.

Los Angeles wore jerseys bearing the logo of the Farmers Insurance Group, with which the Sparks entered a multiyear sponsorship deal. The Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury became the first teams in the league to form jersey sponsorship deals.

Leslie had an off game, scoring just six points, but Los Angeles had plenty of star power to back up the four time-Olympic Gold medalist -- even with Candace Parker sidelined.

Parker, last year's WNBA MVP, had a baby in May and will likely return in July. Thompson, the league's second leading scorer behind Leslie, was added during the offseason in an attempt to offset that void.

"It's great," said Leslie. "We have a lot of weapons and I think it's going to be like an orchestra -- any given night anybody's going to have a solo and Tina and Betty have played well all training camp and I just hope to join them."

Lennox, the 2004 Finals MVP, and Thompson gave the Sparks (1-0) the surge on offense that they needed. The two were catalysts in two separate 11-plus point runs to give Los Angeles a 22-point lead going into halftime.

"They have more scorers, more shooters. They structured their team very well. They beefed up across the board," said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer.

Leslie, who was often double teamed, got to sit on the bench in the fourth quarter and enjoy the show as the Sparks continued to rout the Shock, who were missing Cheryl Ford and Kara Broxton.

Ford is recovering from ACL surgery and Broxton is serving a six-game suspension for pleading guilty to drunken driving charges.

Deanna Nolan and Taj McWilliams carried the load for Detroit, which shot a measly 31 percent from the field. Nolan finished with 15 and McWilliams added 12.

"It's alright. We'll make more," said McWilliams. "It's our first game and now we have a basis and we can go from here."

The shooting woes were the least of the Shock's troubles, though.

Detroit's bench got thinner after Plenette Pierson went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter. Pierson and Thompson got tangled up while going up for a rebound and both fell.

Laimbeer said Pierson, who clutched her shoulder and remained on the floor for some time before being assisted to the bench, will likely be out for the remainder of the season. He thought Thompson's hit was intentional, adding more steam to an ongoing dislike of Sparks' coach Michael Cooper and vice versa.

"You can't intentionally pull them over your back and injure them, that's not good," said Laimbeer. "They targeted Plenette today and that's unfortunate. Tina did it on purpose. She had her and she took advantage of her."

At first look, the Pierson and Thompson tangle under the basket brought back memories of last year's scuffle when Pierson and Parker got tangled up.

A fight ensued after both went down, and Pierson, assistant coach Rick Mahorn and nine others were suspended for roles in the altercation.

Besides Laimbeer and Cooper trading barbs, things didn't take a turn for the worse.

"Bill's going to always have a different take on things," said Cooper. "He's a different kind of person. It was a play that happened with two players that just got tangled up. It's unfortunate that any player got hurt. He and I are always going to have our running monologue."

With Ford, Pierson and Broxton out, the team's roster is down to eight players.

Detroit can submit an application to the league office for an exemption to add additional players because of the injuries. Two games into Broxton's suspension, the Shock has the ability to fill a roster spot without penalty providing it fits into the team's salary cap.