LOS ANGELES (AP)—Candace Parker had 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, and the Los Angeles Sparks earned a 101-76 victory against the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday night to clinch the home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Sparks (23-10), who secured second place in the Western Conference, have won nine straight at home and are 15-1 on their court this season.
”Home court is huge,” 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.”
L.A. concludes the regular season Thursday against first-place Minnesota.
Parker had a double-double by the third quarter and had four blocks. Beard scored 22 points, one point shy of her season high, with six steals and Kristi Toliver added 17.
The Sparks led wire to wire and by double digits over the final 15 minutes.
The Mercury (7-25) dropped their fifth consecutive game despite getting two starters back. DeWanna Bonner, second in the WNBA with 20.9 points per game, returned from a sore back that kept her out for two games and led Phoenix with 23 points and six rebounds.
Candice Dupree made her first appearance since she had left knee surgery on July 24. Dupree, whose 14.8 points per game is second on the Mercury, started and had six points on 3-for-4 shooting in almost 15 minutes.
Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said Dupree is limited to three minutes per quarter. Gaines also said that Olympic guard Diana Taurasi has been shut down for the season after Taurasi sat out her fourth straight game as Gaines opts to play his younger players. Backcourt mate Samantha Prahalis missed her sixth straight game because of a shoulder injury.
The Mercury went on a 7-0 run early in the third quarter and pulled to 60-53 on Dupree’s 10-foot jumper. The Sparks came right back with a 16-2 run, completed by two free throws and a 3-pointer by Beard.
Parker and Toliver helped lead a 13-6 run to start the fourth. Parker swished a straightaway 3-pointer and Toliver sank a pair of 3s for a 94-70 lead. All five starters finished in double-digit scoring for the Sparks, who have lost only to San Antonio at home.
”Great crowd, great team,” Bonner said of the Sparks. ”They have a lot of confidence. Anybody can score on any given night, so it’s tough to guard a team like that. You can’t just stop one person.”
Parker was glad to secure home court but didn’t put much into it.
”I don’t think you can ever breathe easy in the playoffs,” said Parker, whose 17th double-double tied Tina Charles of Connecticut for the most in the league. ”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.”
Parker had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists at halftime. She had an impressive sequence late in the second quarter when she made a turnaround jumper after Marissa Coleman rebounded her missed free throw, got a block on the ensuing trip down the floor, and scored on another turnaround in the paint for an 18-point lead.
Parker then hit a 3-pointer as L.A. took a 54-40 lead into halftime. Phoenix committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter and 13 in the first half.
Bonner scored 19 points in the first half, but the Sparks led by double digits from 26-14 to halftime.
”They got a lot of fast-break points on us,” Bonner said. ”You can’t come back on a team like that. It was a tough shooting night for us. Good luck to them in the playoffs.”
Los Angeles swept Phoenix for the first time in nine years.