LOS ANGELES — As Candace Parker drove down the familiar streets near her home en route to Staples Center on Tuesday afternoon, she had a flashback.
It was about seven weeks ago. The star forward had collided with New York's Quanitra Hollingsworth and fell to the ground writhing in pain as she grasped her knee. She remembers being rushed to the airport that evening, whisked to a plane in a wheelchair — and she recalls exactly what was streaming through her mind as she pulled up to her home.
"Oh my gosh, what if it's my ACL?" she wondered.
Instead of the diagnosis she feared, an MRI exam the following day revealed she had sustained a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee. And instead of missing an entire season, Parker experienced the deja vu with a smile because she was about to take the court for the first time since June 26.
Even though she had missed 15 games, nearly half of the 34-game regular season, Parker posted a double-double in her first game back with 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Sparks fell to Atlanta, 84-79.
"It felt fantastic to be back on the court," she said.
Parker, the 2008 MVP and rookie of the year, showed glimmers of excellence.
There was the time when the 6-foot-4 versatile forward pretended to be a point guard, drove from half court, and split three defenders before passing to an open teammate.
But there was definitely some rust, such as when she erroneously thought a teammate was cutting to the left wing and tossed the ball to space. And there were also frayed emotions.
With the game tied at 79-79 with slightly more than a minute remaining, Parker thought she was fouled after she grabbed an offensive rebound, but the referees didn't make the call. Parker argued and gesticulated her way to two technicals and was ejected with 0.3 second left.
Sparks Coach Joe Bryant said she deserved to be upset.
"I think she got fouled," he said. "And they didn't treat her like a superstar."
Before her injury, Parker was averaging 17.7 points and 9.7 rebounds. Without her, the Sparks have posted a 5-10 record.
Parker's return comes at a critical point in the season. The Sparks (9-14) have 11 games remaining and are in fifth place in the Western Conference, three games behind fourth place Seattle (13-12). The top four teams in each conference make it to the playoffs.
"I think we still control our own destiny," Parker said.