Dearica Hamby scores her 3,000th point, but the struggling Sparks lose to the Minnesota Lynx

Dearica Hamby scores her 3,000th point, but the struggling Sparks lose to the Minnesota Lynx

Sparks forward Azura Stevens moves to the basket against the Minnesota Lynx

Curt Miller told his team to play it all-or-nothing before the Sparks ended their four-game home series on Tuesday night.

“We have to give it our all,” he said before the game. “Tonight we shouldn’t save anything. We have to put everything on the line.”

But Miller’s appeal for passion and intensity on the pitch did not lead to victory.

Minnesota never trailed despite playing without potential Most Valuable Player candidate Napheesa Collier for the second straight game. The Lynx led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter and by as many as 25 points overall, defeating the last-place Sparks 82-67 at Arena.

“Obviously a game where we played better and were better coached,” Miller said. “And that’s why Minnesota is one of the top three teams in the league right now – their execution on offense, their tempo, their defense and their physicality. It’s been really impressive all year playing against everyone and now they’re improving even without their best player.”

The Sparks (5-17) ended an eight-game losing streak with a win over the Las Vegas Aces last Friday, but this now looks more like a blip than a change of course.

Read more: Rickea Jackson’s 22 points cannot save Sparks from the drop in performance in the last minute against Mercury

Dearica Hamby was the top scorer with 18 points and reached the 3,000-point mark in her career, but Minnesota (16-6) still managed to win against the Sparks for the third time this season.

Since taking over as Sparks coach last year, Miller has yet to beat the Lynx, losing all seven of their games. Bridget Carleton led Minnesota with 16 points and Dorka Juhasz scored a season-high 15 points to make up for the loss of Collier, who is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis in her left foot.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve forced Miller to take two timeouts in the first quarter, which ended with the Sparks trailing 29-16 after Alissa Pili and Cecilia Zandalasin each scored three points on back-to-back Minnesota possessions.

The Sparks were able to reduce the deficit to five points in the second quarter, but were trailing by 16 points at the end of the first half despite shooting 42.9%. The lead grew to 25 points midway through the third quarter.

Hamby said that as one of the Sparks’ more experienced players, she needs to set an example for her teammates by showing more intensity from the start to avoid falling behind quickly like she did on Tuesday.

Read more: Dearica Hamby from Sparks: “I put myself in a position to go to the Olympics”

“I had to start with toughness and physicality from the beginning of the game,” said Hamby, the Sparks’ leading scorer this season. “As a professional, you kind of learn on your own, but when you have to lead, I think I have to be more conscious of the tone I set from the beginning. That might work for me, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.”

Sparks forward Azurá Stevens, who made her season debut in a loss to Phoenix on Sunday, started for the first time since undergoing left arm surgery in March. The seven-year veteran had nine points and six rebounds. Stevens replaced Stephanie Talbot, who left Sunday’s game due to injury.

“I feel good,” Stevens said. “It’s a very short season, so I’ve had plenty of practice in training. … I’m still getting used to the physicality of the game and having to get my arm involved.”

The Sparks entered the game with the third-worst turnovers in the WNBA (15.9 per game) and finished the game with 18, leading to 22 points for Minnesota.

And while the Lynx had a 50% shooting percentage on shots beyond the three-point line, the Sparks struggled from distance, hitting just three of 20 shots.

“We’ve talked a lot about the difference between winning and losing here,” Miller said. “Our difference is different than a lot of other teams in this league. And that’s why you have to bring your toughness, your energy and your physicality – every night.”

“And we were tough and physically inferior tonight.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.