Sparks-Stars Preview

While the Los Angeles Sparks can lock up the Western Conference’s third playoff spot with another victory over San Antonio, the Stars’ postseason future is a bit more uncertain.

Los Angeles looks to secure its fourth straight playoff appearance Sunday on the road while avoiding a third consecutive loss to the slumping Stars.

The Sparks (14-16) hold a 1 1/2-game edge on fourth-place San Antonio (13-18), which leads Tulsa by one game and holds the tiebreaker between the teams for the final postseason berth.

A Los Angeles victory in this contest would force the Stars to hold off the Shock over their final two games of the season. However, a San Antonio victory and a Tulsa loss to Seattle later in the night would wrap up playoff berths for both the Stars and Sparks.

Los Angeles faces second-place Minnesota on Tuesday, Seattle on Friday and WNBA-best Phoenix in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Its chances of securing third place improved with Friday’s 80-77 overtime win over East-leading Atlanta.

Candace Parker hit two clutch free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining in the extra session to finish with 26 points. She scored 28 in a 96-90 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday, when the Sparks were outrebounded 37-17 and allowed 60 points in the paint, but they bounced back to outscore the Dream 46-40 in the lane.

"It was a big focal point," Parker said. "We got our butts kicked on the boards the other night against Tulsa, and that was the reason why I think we lost the game."

While the Sparks have won three of four, the Stars have lost four straight after falling 79-62 to Tulsa on Friday. They’ve dropped nine of 11 to put themselves in a tougher spot to return to the playoffs after missing out last season following a six-year postseason run.

San Antonio faces Minnesota on Friday before closing the regular season against Chicago next Sunday.

Becky Hammon, who will retire at the end of the season before taking an assistant coaching job with the NBA’s Spurs, scored 16 points after totaling that same amount over the previous three games.

"We didn’t get our legs into it off the back-to-back," said coach Dan Hughes, whose team lost to Phoenix the previous night. "For the first half we did what we wanted, but Tulsa is really athletic."

Though the Stars have struggled lately, they’ve won the last two matchups with the Sparks after dropping the first by 21 points May 25. Danielle Robinson scored a season-high 24 points in a 101-74 victory June 14, then hit a tiebreaking layup with 8.4 seconds remaining eight days later and had 13 points in a 72-69 win.