Hold up. Not so fast. Not that much has changed.
The positives: The Liberty's three-game winning streak earlier this month seemed to imbue the team with signs of life, and Tina Charles' 32-point performance against defending champion Minnesota showed what a game-changer she can be when she's on. Though the Liberty dropped a game to San Antonio earlier this week, the fourth-place Sparks, Friday night's opponent, were eminently beatable.
The realities: There's a reason the Liberty (7-13) is in last place in the Eastern Conference, and those reasons came alive with IMAX clarity midway through the second quarter of Friday night's 68-54 loss to Los Angeles.
"I don't think it was a tough loss. We didn't play well," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "A tough loss is losing by one or two points. We just didn't have the firepower offense-wise."
With the score tied at 29, the Liberty made three turnovers -- one each by Anna Cruz, Plenette Pierson and Charles (20 points) -- as Los Angeles (8-11) put together a 9-0 run on its way to a 42-33 halftime lead. The Liberty committed six turnovers in the second quarter alone, five of which led to buckets. Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks with 15 points, including 13 in the first half.
"We're a fragile team personnel-wise and from a mental perspective," Laimbeer said, noting that his team scored four points in the fourth quarter and that Cappie Pondexter is playing hurt. "One thing goes wrong and the players put their heads down. We don't play through adversity."
The Liberty came out of the gate strong, taking a 20-17 lead at the end of the first quarter. Charles, the Eastern Conference player of the week, scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the frame, including a turnaround jumper with 5:19 that provided a 10-8 lead and bolstering a 9-2 run. She added eight rebounds.But that rough second quarter, coupled with a slew of missed chances in the third, sealed the Liberty's fate. Pierson's foul shots drew the Liberty to within 52-50 late in the third, but Sandrine Gruda's jumper and Lindsey Harding's layup ended the rally.