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First-half misfires doom Orlando rally

Despite a late 12-0 run to tie the score, Miracle loses its opener to Los Angeles 68-62 thanks to 24 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 2, 2001


ORLANDO -- Miracle coach Carolyn Peck made an impassioned plea Friday night to fans heading for the exits after the WNBA game, asking them to come back June 9 because the team needs them.

Maybe some of them can shoot.

A second-half comeback wasn't enough to overcome lousy shooting as Orlando lost its opener 68-62 to Los Angeles before 10,102 at TD Waterhouse Centre.

"I don't think any of the starters came out with a vengeance," said guard Nykesha Sales, who scored 16 second-half points to finish with a team-high 20. "In the second half we realized we had to fight, but we don't want to be a team that has to dig itself out of holes."

Halftime likely was spent passing out shovels.

Looking more like an expansion team than one expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title, the Miracle shot 24.1 percent in the first half. Only reserve guard Katie Douglas, a rookie from Purdue, looked comfortable on offense, making 4 of 7, including both three-point attempts.

The rest of the team was 3-for-22 as the Miracle trailed 36-27 at halftime.

"The shooting slump had to do with our shot selection," Peck said. "Everybody on our team can score, but it's a matter of how they score. We had some players taking shots off balance.

"Being the first game, we had a lot of players trying to make something happen without letting it work into the offense to get an open shot."

Los Angeles (2-0) made it look easy, especially Latasha Byears, whose 6-for-7 clinic helped the Sparks shoot 50 percent in the first half.

The Sparks led 26-14 in the first half and 48-36 in the second, but at that point Orlando went on a 12-0 run sparked by eight points from Sales to tie the score at 48 with 11:23 left. "Orlando is a never-say-die team," Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper said. "They're always going to do something to disrupt you, and when it got tight in the second half we did some uncharacteristic things."

Sales' three-pointer with 7:26 left tied it at 54, but the Miracle lost its best chance to take the lead when forward Carla McGhee, double-teamed in the post, got off a weak shot, failing to score or draw a foul.

"We built up a lead, but they fought back and made a run," said Sparks forward DeLisha Milton, a former Florida player. "And with them, you never know how big that run is going to be or how long it will last."

It didn't last long enough.

Orlando committed turnovers on its next two possessions and the Sparks took advantage, taking a 59-54 lead on a fastbreak layup by guard Tamecka Dixon. Dixon scored nine of her game-high 21 points in the final seven minutes.

Three times in the final three minutes the Miracle cut the deficit to three, but failed each time to get off a good shot.

"We got content with finally tying the game and then we went back to how we started the game," Sales said. "Everyone was dead, and stopped moving. But we'll learn from our mistakes.

"If we had played both halves the way we played the second half, we probably would have a win."

The Miracle played without two starting guards from last season: Adrienne Johnson, who will miss the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, and point guard Shannon Johnson, who had surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus on May 19.

Shannon Johnson will be evaluated this weekend but is expected to miss another two weeks.

"We made mistakes, but they're all correctable," Peck said. "It's not one of those things where you say, "We've got a weakness, somebody's going to take advantage of that.' We don't. And this is a good time for those mistakes to happen, because we can fix them."

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