Mercury visit Sparks in postseason preview

With their first-round playoff series already set, the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury have little riding on their regular-season finale other than some first-hand scouting.

Neither team is acting as such, though. Both squads look to head into their Western Conference semifinal series on a positive note as Los Angeles hosts Phoenix in a postseason preview Sunday.

The second-seeded Sparks (23-10) will have home-court advantage in their best-of-three series against the third-seeded Mercury (19-14), with Game 1 tipping off Thursday.

Los Angeles has won five of seven after beating first-place Minnesota 85-84 on Thursday behind 25 points and 11 rebounds from Nneka Ogwumike. Candace Parker had 14 points and 10 boards before being ejected with 6:58 left in the third quarter.

“It’s up to your team to respond in whatever way you can,” Ogwumike said. “Whether it’s a positive call or a negative call, you have to feed off that. I think that’s the beauty of our team. Whatever could have turned into negative energy became positive energy and we fed off of that.”

Parker showed a bit too much emotion when protesting a call, but she said she simply got caught up in the moment of a competitive game.

“We still got the win, so it’s all good,” Parker said. “I’m not going to make this a regular thing.”

Los Angeles will need Parker at the top of her game against a Phoenix team that has won five of six after beating San Antonio 82-61 on Friday.

Diana Taurasi, the league’s second-leading scorer at 20.7 points per game, finished with 20 and 10 assists, while Penny Taylor added 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes.

“We wanted to get that win (Friday) to show that this game meant something to us,” said No. 1 overall pick Brittney Griner, who added 13 points and five boards. “Definitely good momentum going into play L.A.”

The Mercury have gone 9-3 since firing coach Corey Gaines and replacing him with Russ Pennell on an interim basis Aug. 8, when they were 10-11 and fighting to stay in the postseason race.

“We’re getting some momentum at the right time when we need it,” Taylor said. “I think we have made leaps.”

The Mercury have won two of three against the Sparks this season, with Taurasi averaging 29.7 points. Her highest-scoring games of the year came in those two wins, with 34 points in a 97-81 victory June 14 and scoring 32 in a 90-84 win in the most recent meeting July 18.

No matter the team’s recent run and the previous success against the Sparks, Pennell knows there’s room for improvement with the playoffs approaching.

“We have to get better. Not only do we have to win, we have to get better,” Pennell said.

Parker scored 21 points in Los Angeles’ 88-76 win over Phoenix on July 14 and finished with 25 and 16 rebounds in the most recent matchup.

These teams last met in the playoffs in 2009, when the Mercury beat the Sparks in three games in the conference finals on their way to the WNBA title.