Sparks go for season sweep of Mercury
By MATT BEARDMORE
The Los Angeles Sparks have secured a spot in the postseason. Now they’re on the verge of clinching home-court advantage for at least the first round.
Los Angeles could lock up the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday night as they seek a ninth consecutive home win and first season sweep of the Phoenix Mercury in nine years.
The Sparks (22-10) are set for their first playoff appearance since 2010. While defending champion Minnesota has clinched the conference title, Los Angeles can secure the second position with one win or a loss by San Antonio, which hosts New York on Tuesday.
The Sparks have put themselves in this spot by winning two straight at home following a 1-4 trip, defeating East-leading Connecticut 93-82 on Friday for their third win in four games.
“We just want to continue to get better going into the playoffs,” forward Candace Parker said after scoring 23 points with 10 rebounds. “I know I myself haven’t played so well since the break, and my teammates have done a good job of (supporting me) and continuing to believe in me and continue to give me motivation.
“I don’t want to admit weakness, but I think everybody’s a little tired. I’ve been playing basketball since October. It’s been a year. You hit that wall and then you build your way back up. Hopefully, I’m on the way back up.”
It can’t get much worse for the last-place Mercury (7-24), who need to win one of their final three games to avoid a team record for fewest victories. Phoenix went 8-26 in 2003 – also the last year Los Angeles swept this season series.
The Sparks’ four wins against the Mercury in 2012 have come by an average of 13.8 points.
Phoenix, loser of four in a row, could have trouble keeping the score that close if it is short-handed again. DeWanna Bonner – second in the league with 20.9 points per game – has missed the last two with a sore back, Diana Taurasi has been out the last three while coach Corey Gaines gives younger players minutes, and guard Samantha Prahalis has been sidelined five straight with a shoulder injury.
Sparks rookie forward Nneka Ogwumike had team highs of 25 points and 12 boards in the Mercury’s only visit to Los Angeles this season, a 90-74 loss June 8. Ogwumike, though, struggled in the last two matchups with Phoenix, totaling 19 points.
The Sparks have won the last three at home in the series.