The Los Angeles Sparks were playing their best basketball of the season at the beginning of the month and nearly knocked off the Phoenix Mercury in the process.
That close defeat a little more than two weeks ago began a difficult stretch for the slumping Sparks, who look to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat when they host the Mercury on Tuesday night.
Los Angeles (2-12) ended its franchise-worst 0-7 start with wins over San Antonio and Tulsa on July 2 and 3, but fell 94-91 to Phoenix in overtime July 5 on Leilani Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining.
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The Sparks then lost the next three by at least seven points before falling 76-72 to visiting Atlanta on Thursday. Jantel Lavender finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds while Nneka Ogwumike added 19 and six.
Los Angeles turned it over 16 times after committing 21 turnovers in a loss to Seattle the previous night.
Ogwumike had 26 points and 19 boards in the first meeting with the Mercury (9-6), whose six-game winning streak ended with a 75-73 home loss to New York on Saturday.
Phoenix squandered a seven-point lead with under than three minutes left before Brittney Griner hit a turnaround jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining to tie it. But DeWanna Bonner fouled Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince with 1.7 on the clock, and she made the deciding free throws.
"We just have to learn from it (the loss) and that’s all we can do. Learn from it and move forward," coach Sandy Brondello told the team’s official website. "We’ll focus a little bit more in practice."
The Mercury hit 43.1 percent from the field and went 5 of 15 from 3-point range while shooting 13 fewer free throws than New York. Griner was one of the few bright spots, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
Bonner had 10 points while shooting 3 for 13, and Candice Dupree scored eight while hitting 4 of 14 from the field. Dupree, though, became the 19th player in league history to surpass 4,500 points.
"I’d much rather have the win," Dupree said. "We had too many turnovers down the stretch. I feel like as a group we were too passive. We weren’t really aggressive like we normally are – attacking, trying to get out and run a transition – (and) it hurt us."
The Mercury look to bounce back by winning a 10th straight meeting with the Sparks, including playoffs. Bonner scored 22 points, Dupree added 21 and Griner finished with 19 and 10 rebounds in the first matchup.
Los Angeles last beat Phoenix in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series in 2013. The Mercury won all seven matchups last season, including a two-game sweep in the first round.