LOS ANGELES (AP) — All the intrigue of a Western Conference semifinal preview was gone shortly after tip-off.
Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender each scored 16 points and Nneka Ogwumike had 12 points and eight rebounds as the Los Angeles Sparks defeated the Phoenix Mercury 89-55 on Sunday.
The Sparks (24-10) routed the Mercury (19-15) in a game in which the teams’ star players weren’t needed in the second half. L.A. and Phoenix had already clinched the second and third seeds, respectively, and will open a best-of-three series Thursday in Los Angeles.
The win gave L.A. a split of the four-game regular season series.
“I think it’s good for our confidence, but there’s a lot of things we can take from this,” Parker said. “We got some (reserve) players in. We were able to play but rest a little bit. Combined — the past two games — I’ve probably played like 13 minutes. But I think it’s good for us, and going into next week ready to prepare for Phoenix in the playoffs.”
Brittney Griner had nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks and Jasmine James scored nine points for Phoenix, which was held to its lowest point total this season.
Diana Taurasi, who had a shot at her sixth WNBA scoring title, took a knee to a quad from A’dia Mathies in the second quarter and was held out as a precautionary measure. Phoenix’s second-leading scorer, Candice Dupree, did not play because of a tight hamstring, according to Mercury coach Russ Pennell.
Pennell said that playing six games in nine days caught up to his team, and his players agreed.
“It’s going to be great for us to get off our legs and rest,” Griner said. “I know I’m going to sit on the couch and rest. The only thing I’m doing is playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour (video game). That’s all I’m doing. I’m working my thumbs.”
Griner added that she expects a much different game in the postseason. It was only Griner’s second game against L.A., and she only played 15 minutes in the June 14 meeting because she was recovering from a knee injury.
“It’s going to be good,” she said. “Don’t base it off of tonight, but it’s going to be good. We’re going to compete and we’re going to get after it.”
Kristi Toliver and Lindsey Harding each scored 12 points for L.A., which led by double-digits from 19-9. It outscored Phoenix, 13-2, on fast break points through three quarters. Jenna O’Hea gave the Sparks their biggest lead at 75-37 on a basket inside.
The Mercury held opponents to 71.8 points on 37 percent shooting in the previous 12 games under Pennell but the Sparks’ 89 points came on 47 percent shooting. One more point by L.A. would have triggered a promotional giveaway.
“We got a stop on the Jamba Juice,” Pennell joked. “We were trying to prevent the Jamba Juice giveaway.”
Parker provided the highlight basket with a Hakeem Olajuwon “Dream Shake” move on Griner in the third.
“It’s funny because my dad (Larry)), a long time ago, even before (Rajon) Rondo did it, my dad was trying to show me that move,” Parker said. “He was here today. I had to look at him and smile a little bit.”
The Sparks took a 49-26 lead into halftime behind Parker’s 12 points, Toliver’s 10 and Lavender’s eight. It was the lowest scoring first half this season by Phoenix, which committed nine turnovers in the opening 10 minutes and 21 overall.