Breaking down the L.A. Sparks

Candace Parker and the Sparks play five of their first seven games at home. Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

The Sparks were second best in the West last season, but only by a hair.

So Los Angeles went and got better, deeper and more dangerous and now has to hope that it's enough to overtake Minnesota and newly powerful Phoenix.

Candace Parker, coming off the best season of her WNBA career, is back to make a run at not only a title but also league MVP honors.

She's complemented on the perimeter by a rejuvenated Kristi Toliver, who proved last year that she's a top-flight scorer, and inside by second-year forward Nneka Ogwumike, whose explosive, athletic game translated well to the WNBA last summer.

Los Angeles added veteran point guard Lindsey Harding to the mix, and the Sparks have the look of a title contender.

What's new?

Harding reunites with former Duke and Mystics teammate Alana Beard and looks to become the consistent point guard presence that was the Sparks' only missing piece from a year ago. Harding, already tabbed L.A.'s starter at the point, frees up Toliver to score at will.

What's missing?

DeLisha Milton-Jones was a big-sister figure to some of the Sparks' young players, a mentor who has seen and experienced so much in her WNBA career. That will be missed -- she is now with San Antonio -- and it will be up to someone like Parker or Toliver to pick up that slack.

Biggest challenges

Size. The Sparks are not the biggest team in the West. They don't have a Brittney Griner or a Liz Cambage, and they don't have great depth inside. Parker's good health is everything to Los Angeles.

Playoff prospects

The Sparks have every reason to think they can contend for a WNBA title. Barring a significant injury situation, they have enough talent to reach the postseason, even in an improved and potentially brutal Western Conference.