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Lennox, Thompson lead Sparks past Liberty, 69-60

Jul 10, 2009 - 3:02 AM By VIN A. CHERWOO AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK(AP) -- After getting off to a slow start this season, Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper believes the Sparks are close to hitting their stride.

Betty Lennox scored 20 points, Tina Thompson had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Los Angeles beat the New York Liberty 69-60 on Thursday night. Candace Parker, playing in her second game since returning after the birth of her daughter in May, had eight points and six rebounds in 23 minutes for the Sparks (4-6).

"We're still in that stage of trying to find each other," Cooper said. "It's going to take us some time before you really see our team play the way we're supposed to be playing when everybody's healthy."

Although they got Parker back in their last game, the Sparks are still without Lisa Leslie. The three-time MVP sprained her right knee in a loss to Phoenix on June 19 and is expected to rejoin the team later this month.

"This team wasn't built on just two or three or four players," Cooper said. "Obviously having four Olympians helped, that's not going to get it done if you're not playing together. ... Betty came in off the bench and did a superb job. We had been lacking some energy coming off the bench and she supplied that immensely tonight."

Los Angeles shot 47 percent from the field (27 for 57), including 6 for 16 on 3-pointers, and outrebounded New York 38-24. The Liberty shot 37 percent, including 3 for 17 from beyond the arc.

Parker was pleased with her effort and isn't worried about figuring out how close she is to being 100 percent.

"I just know that I can take a step forward every game and I feel like I did take a step forward this game from last game," she said. "My legs are getting a little bit under me and things are working out that way. I'll probably start to measure that maybe in two or three weeks."

Los Angeles missed its first five shots and trailed 11-0 before Parker's reverse layup with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter got the Sparks on the scoreboard.

"Teams are going to come out like that," Thompson said. "When you're on the road and they're at home you expect them to come out to a fast start. Coach Cooper called a couple of timeouts and told us to stay set and continue to play our basketball. We were kind of getting shots we wanted to get, we just kind of weren't putting them in."

Los Angeles, starting a stretch of seven straight road games, got its first win away from Staples Center and its third victory in the last five games overall.

Janel McCarville scored 18 points, Essence Carson had 12 and Shameka Christon 10 for New York (3-7), which lost for the fourth time in five games.

"It all comes down to focus," said Christon, who entered the night fifth in the league with 18.4 points per game. "We have to execute our assignments and we didn't. We made a lot of mistakes. It's frustrating, but we got to keep fighting. Somehow or another we got to keep fighting and get things off the ground."

Vanessa Hayden's layup with 1:56 left in the third quarter started the Sparks' 8-2 run that gave them a 53-47 lead heading into the final period.

Consecutive baskets by Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Parker and Noelle Quinn in a 55-second span stretched Los Angeles' lead to 64-51 with 6 minutes to go.

Cathrine Kraayeveld's running hook shot 2:40 later ended a scoreless drought for both teams and pulled the Liberty within 11.

However, Thompson's straightaway 3 with 1:37 left gave the Sparks their biggest lead, 69-55.

"Lennox coming off the bench scoring 20 is unacceptable," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "You know Tina Thompson is a great player in this league. You know you expect that is what she's going to do. You know the same thing with Lennox but we missed some assignments."

After making four of their first eight shots, the Liberty finished the first quarter 6 for 17.

The Sparks used a 12-3 run over the first 3 minutes of the second quarter to take a 21-18 lead. Thompson's three-point play on the previous possession gave Los Angeles its first lead.

New York closed the first half with an 11-3 run, capped by four straight points by Loree Moore, to tie it at 33-all.

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