Los Angeles (19-9) at Washington (5-22)

By NOEY KUPCHAN, STATS Writer Thursday, Sep 6, 2012 Kickoff: 7:00 pm EDT Fri Sep 7, 2012

While they’ve already secured a playoff berth, the Los Angeles Sparks haven’t looked much like contenders of late.

A matchup against the worst team in the league could be just what they need to regroup.

With Alana Beard and Marissa Coleman both likely to receive warm ovations in their return to the nation’s capital, Los Angeles tries to avoid a season-high fourth consecutive defeat Friday night when it faces the Washington Mystics.

Since winning nine straight by an average of 15.3 points, the Sparks (19-9) haven’t been able to get it together. Los Angeles came up short against sub-.500 foes Tulsa and Chicago before falling 88-77 to WNBA-best Minnesota on Tuesday - the third stop on its five-game road swing.

Beard had 17 points while Jenna O’Hea scored 15 for the Sparks, whose 20 turnovers led to 29 points for the Lynx. Leading scorers Kristi Toliver and Candace Parker combined for 11 points and 11 turnovers.

“They did a great job of making us do things we didn’t want to do,” Beard said. “But at the same time we did a lot of things that were in our control in terms of turnovers and forced shots.”

Beard has picked up the pace over her last seven games, averaging 15.0 points - 4.1 more than her season mark. Those impressive numbers shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Washington, with whom she started her career.

Beard, who signed with Los Angeles after sitting out the previous two seasons with ankle and foot injuries, was a four-time All-Star while with the Mystics.

While Beard has come up big for the Sparks, Coleman has averaged just 3.2 points off the bench since being acquired from Washington for guard Noelle Quinn in February.

Coleman - and especially Beard - should be well received at the Verizon Center.

“I think it’s going to be a really big game especially with Alana and Marissa coming back,” Mystics leading scorer Crystal Langhorne said. “Then having Candace Parker here; I just think it’s going to be a really big game on Friday.”

Washington (5-22) has the fewest wins in the league and is in the midst of a season-worst six-game losing streak.

The Mystics lost 77-70 to Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut on Tuesday despite Langhorne’s game-high 23 points.

“We’re playing better but we’re still not winning so it’s tough,” said Langhorne, posting 15.8 points per game. “We’re not executing down the stretch and messing up on defense, missing block outs, and things like that. You can’t beat people when you’re messing up on the little things.

“Every night we’re coming and we’re expecting to win so that’s the thing we have to keep believing.”

Langhorne was limited to a season-low two points on 1-of-5 shooting as Washington fell 101-70 at Los Angeles on June 18.

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