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Don't call it a comeback.
Up until this year, Los Angeles' Candace Parker hadn't played a full season since her explosive debut in the league back in 2008 when she won both Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season -- the only player in WNBA history to accomplish that feat. After taking time off to give birth to her daughter, Lailaa, in 2009 and after missing several games the following two seasons because of shoulder and knee injuries injuries, Parker has bounced back with stellar numbers in 2012 and is now a prime candidate for the league's MVP once again.
The star forward is close to averaging a double-double for the season by racking up 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game. Parker hasn't put up numbers like that since her rookie year when she averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. She told WNBA.com that hard work is her recipe for success. Even though she missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons and many started to question her durability, Parker never stopped working to get back to her 2008 form.
"I knew it was going to take time," she said in the locker room following her team's game against the New York Liberty on Sept. 9. "I knew I'd have to take time with a lot of work in the gym and trying to get my body back in shape the way it used to be, but eventually it was going to come forward."
What's most impressive about her current play is that she's taken very little time off this year. She played basketball in Russia in the offseason where she helped her team win a championship and last month she helped lead Team USA to its fifth consecutive gold medal.
"Honestly, its just about preparing," Parker said. "This is my first time I've played basketball year-round. So first thing I do is make sure my body is healthy, make sure I'm eating right, make sure I'm lifting, things like that."
"She's been consistent all year," Ross said. "She's tough. I've tried to rest her a few times in games and she wouldn't have it because she wants to be there for our players. I love working with someone that puts their teammates first."
The Sparks, who have already clinched a playoff spot, came out of the gates swinging this season -- at one point winning as many as nine in a row -- but in recent weeks have been on a slump, as have Parker's numbers. In the last five games, a stretch where L.A. is 1-4, Parker's scoring average has dropped to 13 points a game.
Ross and Parker attribute this minor swoon to a brutal road schedule. The team's loss to the Liberty on Sunday was the team's last stop on a 13-day, five-game road trip. Parker said heading back to Los Angeles to play the team's four remaining games this regular season will help her and the team get back to their winning ways from earlier in the season.
"We have four home games left to get back on track," she said. "We dont have easy teams coming in but if we execute the way we did in the first half, we shouldn't have any problems."