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Liberty Visit League-Leading Sparks

After the first month of the season, the WNBA is shaping up as a free-for-all.

That’s no more evident than in Los Angeles where the Sparks and New York Liberty face off Sunday at Staples Center.

While the Sparks, as expected, sit atop the standings at 9-3, Brian Agler’s squad had its four-game winning streak snapped Friday in no-doubt fashion with a 29-point loss to Dallas. What might be most disturbing is the Sparks already had a 25-point loss on their record.

“They were hungrier than we were, and I think they were more persistent,” Agler explained. “So, you know, X’s and O’s, you can throw those things out the window when one team is doing the intangible things a lot harder than the other team.”

The Wings shredded the league’s best defense, connecting on 53.1 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 12 of 25 from beyond the arc. Liz Cambage led the Wings, making 9 of 10 shots from the field.

“I guarded her my first two years in the league. … It was the same, she’s a tough guard,” said Nneka Ogwumike, the lone L.A. player to score in double figures (17 points). “She’s a big body in there and she knows how to use her body. That was pretty much it, she was playing the way she knows how to play.”

The Sparks will have to have a short memory as they get ready for the Liberty, who fell to 4-7 after losing to the Las Vegas Aces 88-78 on Friday.

“Our approach right now is just focusing on New York, you know, that’s how we operate.” Agler said. “We don’t look too far ahead; we just focus on the next one.”

When preparing for the Liberty, the focus always centers on stopping Tina Charles. Charles is second in the league in scoring at 20.9 points per game. She scored only 14 points against the Aces on 6 of 18 from the field. She also had an uncharacteristic six turnovers.

On Friday, Charles became the 19th player in WNBA history to reach the 5,000-point plateau. Before Friday’s loss, Charles heaped praise on her former coach, Bill Laimbeer, who left after last season to take the helm of the Las Vegas franchise.

“He just always made sure for me that I would stay engaged in the game,” Charles said during a midweek conference call. “You really appreciate that. … You want that line of communication.”

Sunday’s game will be the first regular-season meeting this year.

While the Sparks still allow a league-low 76.2 points per game, Los Angeles remains at the bottom of the pack when it comes to rebounding.

The Sparks pull down only 29.2 boards per game. Expect the Liberty to try to exploit that advantage

At 16.6 points per game, Ogwumike leads three other Sparks players in double figures. Candace Parker (15.6 points), Chelsea Gray (14.9) and Odyssey Sims (12.3) provide the nucleus of the Los Angeles offense.

On the other side, only Kia Nurse joins Charles in averaging double figures at 12.3 points per game.