The Chicago Sky boosted their playoff hopes, and perhaps gained some confidence, by defeating the WNBA's leading team this week at home. They'll have to take the next steps toward their first postseason berth on the road.
The Sky begin a three-game western trek Thursday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, winners of six in a row at Staples Center.
Even with All-Star center Sylvia Fowles out of the lineup, Chicago (12-17) managed to snap Minnesota's 11-game win streak with an 83-70 victory Tuesday.
Epiphanny Prince led the way with 26 points and Courtney Vandersloot scored 17. Fowles' replacement, Carolyn Swords, contributed 11 points and a career-high nine rebounds.
The Sky might need Swords to step up again as Fowles could miss a third straight game due to a strained calf.
"The biggest thing for (Swords) is that she practices against Sylvia everyday, so we don't have to worry so much about getting her ready for an opponent,'' coach Pokey Chatman said.
Chicago is 3-1 since dropping 15 of 17, and one of its recent wins was an 85-74 victory against Los Angeles on Sept. 2. Prince led six Sky players in double figures with 17 points and had a career-high nine assists.
Vandersloot chipped in 15 points and is averaging 14.8 over the last four games, well above her season mark of 8.4.
"She's just playing real poised, being more aggressive," Prince said. "I always knew she could score the ball and now that Syl's down and we need more points, she's attacking better, looking for her shot. But she's still running the offense and getting us in positions where we need to be."
The Sparks could use a little more help from star forward Candace Parker, whose numbers have dipped since the Olympic break. Parker has averaged 12.3 points in her past nine games after scoring 19.0 per contest before the month-long hiatus.
Parker, though, has totaled 32 points over the last two games and grabbed 15 rebounds in Sunday's 73-71 loss to New York, the team that's battling Chicago for the final Eastern Conference postseason berth.
"Hopefully we can learn, grow, and get better for the playoffs," guard Kristi Toliver said.
Los Angeles (20-10) has already clinched its spot in the postseason thanks in part to Toliver's improved scoring. She's averaging a career-high and team-best 18.1 points while keeping the Sparks just ahead of San Antonio for the No. 2 seed in the West.
The Sparks, though, didn't help themselves by going 1-4 on their longest road trip of the year, and will try to get back on track during a four-game homestand to end the regular season. They'll be looking to win seven straight at home in one season for the first time since June 7-25, 2006.
Los Angeles has won four in a row at home over Chicago.