Parker Confident in Postseason Berth
The Sparks are out of the Playoffs now, but their leader thinks they’ll turn it around.
by Stephen Litel
For a team currently on the outside of the playoff picture, the Los Angeles Sparks get a lot of publicity. Of course, they deserve it because of the team’s history of winning, as well as the star power that makes up their roster. When you throw in the fact that this is Lisa Leslie’s final season in the WNBA, it makes sense that it is difficult to turn away from this team during the dark times.
“I’m feeling better,” said Candace Parker, who recently returned to the lineup after having a child. “I’m making progress every day. I’m taking care of my body and that’s the most important thing right now, but it’s a process. I haven’t even been playing for a month yet, so I’ll be back and more towards myself in the middle of August. That’s my goal.”
During her time away from the team, although relishing her new role as mother, Parker still found it difficult not to be out on the court. The competitive fire was still present and seeing her team play below expectations–even without one of their stars–proved to be a test. It’s a mental challenge when your mind is competitive, but you know that your body is not quite ready.
“It was difficult,” said Parker. “Unfortunately, I’ve been sidelined on numerous occasions for injuries. I’ve suffered two knee injuries that were serious and left me out for part of my senior year of high school and all of my freshman year of college, so I know what it’s like to sit and watch. It’s not fun, but you learn from it. You learn that the game is so mental and I feel that you can still get better on the sideline.”
Of course, Parker’s return has not been smooth. In a bit of irony, Parker’s reemergence with the Sparks foreshadowed Leslie’s removal with injury and the team continued to struggle as they constantly adjust to new players and lineups. Even though she may very well be the best individual player in the league and one of the all-time great college players, Parker is still working on getting her game back to the level she expects of herself.
“The biggest thing isn’t just conditioning,” said Parker. “It’s more getting my legs underneath me, you know? It’s not necessarily my lungs that are tired. It’s my muscles aren’t used to firing. That’s the biggest thing right now.”
Some argued that it might have been best for Parker to sit out the entire season, focusing on her family and getting herself in shape, ready to roll in the summer of 2010. However, the other side of the argument consisted of sending Lisa Leslie out in style with Parker by her side. That was never Parker’s intent, as she always knew she would come back and give all she can to her team. After their disappointing season, the intensity of her competitive fire only continued to grow.
“Oh, definitely,” said Parker. “You know, I’m a competitor. I had her in May and I’m 23, so I bounce back fast. I feel like I’m playing now and although it’s not my best, I feel like I’m still contributing to the team. I will continue to do so and when we hit the end of the season, I’ll hopefully be at my best.”
If the playoffs were to start today, the Sparks would not make an appearance. Yet, with both Leslie and Parker back in the lineup, Los Angeles showed a small glimpse of what they are capable of when they defeated the Seattle Storm earlier this week in a great game. With all the pressure on, the Sparks won a tight game in overtime against a Seattle team that also knows how to win and has their own legitimate championship aspirations this season. Every night is going to be a fight like that game and Parker is ready.
“We know we’re the Sparks, so we never get a night off anyway,” said Parker. “The West is stacked and everybody brings their best against us, as they should. We know it’s going to be an all out battle for the playoffs and we’re ready to fight that battle in the second half of the season.”
As the number of games dwindles, Parker and her Los Angeles teammates are confident they can “turn it on” and start rolling now. They will need to do just that to sneak into the playoffs, but they might be too far back to accomplish the great task. It’s difficult to imagine Lisa Leslie’s final season ending without a playoff berth, so Parker and company are ready to buckle down, face the seemingly impossible and try to accomplish one of their goals.
“We’re confident because we know what we’re capable of doing,” said Parker. “We’ve seen greatness in our team and we know that we’ve lost some tough ones. We’re capable of doing great things when we play together, play hard and play smart. That’s the key thing.”
Although the amount of coverage of this current non-playoff team may go over the top at times, all eyes will be on them through the stretch run. As the new poster child for the WNBA, it’s also difficult not to watch Parker return to form. Of course, that form is simply domination on the court. Whether or not the Sparks make the playoffs, the camera lenses will always point towards Los Angeles.