Lynx-Sparks Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and know who they'll be facing when the postseason begins next week.

Los Angeles, though, will be the better rested team.

The Sparks conclude their schedule Thursday night when they host a Minnesota team which still has to play three road games in the final four days of the season.

The defending WNBA champion Lynx (26-5) have secured the best record in the league for the second consecutive year and will begin the playoffs against No. 4 seed Seattle.

Los Angeles (23-10) clinched the second seed in the West with a 101-76 win over Phoenix on Tuesday night and is back in the playoffs after missing out in 2011 for just the fourth time in franchise history.

The two-time WNBA champion Sparks will face No. 3 seed San Antonio in the opening round. Their win over the Mercury on Tuesday was their ninth straight at home, where they are 15-1 and beat the Lynx 96-90 on July 5.

"Home court is huge," guard Alana Beard said. "We're 15-1 at home and 8-9 on the road. You can do the calculations and understand that this is where we want to be. I'm excited about this (first-round) series. I think it's going to be a competitive series, and having home-court advantage is huge for us.

"I think there's great energy in here. We have a great pregame routine here. We have to figure out a way to translate that to the road. But I think we're in our comfort zone here."

The Sparks' only home loss was to the Silver Stars and San Antonio took three of four meetings this season, so star forward Candace Parker is making it a point to remind her teammates that home-court advantage guarantees them nothing.

"I don't think you can ever breathe easy in the playoffs," she said. "I think it's like a win-or-go home, especially with the playoff format. You can't have any real time to stumble. So it just puts the pressure on us to win that first game at home.

"We have a lot of confidence going forward, but we still have a lot of work to do for the playoffs."

Minnesota will have plenty of chances to improve for the postseason - not on the practice court but in game situations. The Lynx, trying to match their team record for wins set last season, visit Phoenix on Friday night and San Antonio on Sunday.

In a stretch of playing six of their last seven on the road, the Lynx finished 16-1 at home with an 86-79 victory over playoff-bound Indiana on Monday night.

"You win your home games, and you're WNBA champions," coach Cheryl Reeve told the Lynx's official website. "That's something that is really dear to us. We've worked for this, to put ourselves in the best position."