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TOUGH ROAD: Sparks guard Noelle Quinn, left, and her mates defeated Detroit in their season opener but have struggles since then, winning only once on the road
11 games in, it hasn't been quite the season the Sparks expected when they opened training camp with four Olympians, several new faces and hopes of a WNBA title.A season that opened with a 20-point home victory over the defending champion Detroit Shock is now a 4-8 campaign that has them among the bottom of the Western Conference.You can blame it on an unfavorable schedule that has had them on the road for all but four games between their June 6 opener and August 4. They've struggled away from Staples Center, going 1-6 and losing all but one game by nine or more points.The team has not been at full strength this year. Candace Parker is adjusting to game speed after missing eight games following the birth of her daughter Lailaa while Lisa Leslie has missed the last seven games with a knee injury.Playing her first games in 10 months, Parker has yet to reach double figures in scoring in the four games she has played. For her, the key is continuing to work on her conditioning as well as rediscovering her rhythm with the team.Despite playing without their two top players at their best, forward Delisha Milton-Jones didn't offer injuries as excuses after the team's first home loss to Phoenix."What has been a thorn in our side is our intelligence in certain moments of the game and our effort," Milton-Jones said.Twice on this road trip, the Sparks have found themselves trailing big early only to pick up their play as the game went on. It worked against the New York Liberty for a 69-60 victory on July 9 but resulted in a 12-point loss to Washington two days later."Starting a game right makes a really big difference, especially at the end," Parker said after the Washington loss.With nearly a week to rest before going to Seattle to face the Storm on July 22, it'll give the team a chance to regroup and get healthy. Leslie is expected to return for that game and the teams have split their first two meetings, with the Sparks losing 69-67 at Seattle on June 26.Fans can relax about hitting the panic button just yet. The Sparks may be road-weary now, but by season's end it could prove valuable just in time for the playoffs.