Sparks-Storm Preview

It’s fair to say that the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm are both at a crossroads heading into Saturday’s critical matchup.

These Western Conference rivals are both enduring losing streaks, and the Storm are unsure of veteran guard Sue Bird’s status as they look to avoid dropping to 0-4 against the visiting Sparks.

Los Angeles (10-14) has a two-game lead over Seattle for the West’s fourth and final playoff spot, and has already captured the tiebreaker by taking the first three meetings.

The Sparks have dropped three straight while the Storm have lost a season-high four in a row as they seek to avoid an 0-4 homestand.

Seattle (9-17) figures to be hard-pressed to win without Bird, who was sidelined by a strained neck for Thursday’s 84-80 overtime loss to New York. The All-Star guard is questionable Saturday.

Temeka Johnson started in her place and became the fifth player in WNBA history with a triple-double with 13 points, 11 assists and a career-high 10 rebounds.

”I knew she really played well but I didn’t have any idea of the statistics until after the game,” coach Brian Agler said. ”It doesn’t really matter how you do that, whenever you can put those kind of numbers together it just shows that you played a very impactful game, and she really did.”

The 5-foot-3 Johnson was a fan favorite when she played for Los Angeles between 2006-08.

"I mean, I’m not going to downplay it, it’s a huge accomplishment but aren’t I a little small to be doing this?" she told the Storm’s official website.

Los Angeles has captured the first three meetings by an average of 11.0 points, building halftime leads of 11 and 18 in its two visits to Seattle.

The Sparks may not be as confident now in the wake of Sunday’s dismissal of coach Carol Ross. General manager Penny Toler will coach the remainder of the season, and Los Angeles fell to 0-2 under her with Thursday’s 93-73 home defeat to league-leading Phoenix.

Nneka Ogwumike scored 23 points to lead the Sparks, who trailed by 17 after one quarter and 25 at the half.

"I’m actually proud of them because this is a lot of distractions that we have right now and that’s recognizing that even as GM,” Toler said. ”We’re trying to change some things and go forward, and it may take a minute. Obviously we want things to be instant, but it doesn’t work like that.”

Reigning league MVP Candace Parker is averaging 18.3 points in the season series with two double-doubles for Los Angeles.