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Veteran forward makes adjustments in 1st season with Aces

When Candace Parker was in her late 20s, she wanted to be like San Antonio Spurs Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

A 19-year NBA forward who anchored five championship teams, Duncan continued to be an effective force for the Spurs well into his late 30s. He won his final NBA title in 2014 at age 37. Parker has said she considers Duncan the prime example of how a player can change their game to remain impactful later in their career.

Now, Parker, 37, says it’s time to follow through on her words.

“Whatever the team needs me to do, I want to do it,” the Aces forward said last week. “I don’t want to be in the way and a reason not to succeed. I want to be a reason why we’re succeeding.”

Parker, a two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion, has experienced a mixed start to her Aces career. She’s averaging career lows in points (9.1), rebounds (5.4) and field-goal attempts (7.4). But she’s also averaging a career-low 1.6 turnovers for the Aces, who are off to one of the best starts in league history.

The Aces (15-1) and Parker return to Michelob Ultra Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday to play the Dallas Wings (8-8).

“There’s still more learning to do, but I’m at peace,” Parker said. “I don’t think I have to go out and improve. It’s just proving we can win is my main proof. I don’t individually have to prove anything.”

Parker admitted it’s been an adjustment for her since joining the Aces. In particular, the 16-year veteran said it’s taken time to learn the rhythms of her place in the rotation.

Coach Becky Hammon tends to sub Parker out around the five-minute mark in the first quarter, giving longer runs to her younger stars such as A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum.

Parker said it’s been a new experience. She added that playing in shorter segments has required her to be more active and seek the game, instead of letting it come to her.

Her mental shift has also come with a new pregame warmup, which focuses on having Parker fully engaged physically because she can’t work her body into the game.

“There’s no reason for me not to sprint every time down the court because I’m playing five minutes in increments,” Parker said. “That’s the mentality I have to have. Sometimes you coast a little bit, and you don’t really come out intense.”

Parker’s adjustments are working. She has scored 15 points, her season high, in three of the past four games.

During a 102-84 win over the Connecticut Sun on Saturday, Parker had six quick points on 3-of-4 shooting in an extended seven-minute first-quarter run. Hammon said the team has made a concerted effort to get Parker touches around the paint. She was 6 of 7 on two-point field goals against the Sun.

“She’s so long, smart; she just sees things,” Hammon said.

Parker accepting her role in Las Vegas is another similarity to Duncan. He raised his play in the playoffs late in his career because he sacrificed his regular-season stats. Parker’s willingness to adapt to her new minutes shows she’s ready to make the same sacrifices to win another championship.

“Sometimes we say we want to win, but people don’t want to do what is necessary for winning,” Parker said. “There’s been times in my career where I had to score 30 to win. Then, there’s times where I had to do other things. So I’m learning that about myself. I’m learning that I’m capable of doing that.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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