Mercury-Sparks Preview

The Associated Press

The Phoenix Mercury know better than to pat themselves on the back for a winning streak that ultimately won't mean anything without success in the postseason.

Phoenix hits the road looking to extend its impressive run to 14 and beat the Los Angeles Sparks for the third time this season Thursday night.

The Mercury (19-3) became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with Tuesday's 89-71 victory at Seattle, as Diana Taurasi scored 22 points and Brittney Griner added 17, seven rebounds and five blocks.

''One small goal of our many goals that we have,'' Candice Dupree, who had 19 points, said about clinching a playoff spot. ''Ultimately, we want to have the best record in the league and the No. 1 (seed) for the playoffs.''

Phoenix's franchise-record winning streak is the third-longest in WNBA history, five short of Los Angeles' 18-game run in 2001. It appears to be the favorite to add another championship to those won in 2007 and '09, but first-year coach Sandy Brondello isn't looking too far ahead.

''Everyone wants to win a championship. That's what it's about,'' Brondello said. ''But we have to keep our feet on the ground. Championships are not won in July. They are won in September this year. It's a long way to go.

''We're a talented team and they're fun to coach because they love playing together."

Taurasi, fifth in the league in scoring at 18.0 points per game, said the Mercury have remained humble despite their success.

''We really don't talk about it,'' Taurasi said about the streak. ''We're so focused on every little moment, whatever team we're playing, shootaround, practice, the next game. If it keeps going, great. If not, hopefully we'll start another one.''

Taurasi scored a season-high 32 points - hitting 7 of 10 from 3-point range - in a 94-89 win at Los Angeles on July 6, the Mercury's fourth victory in the last five meetings including last season's Western Conference semifinals.

Candace Parker scored 27 points in that contest for Los Angeles (10-13), but she sat out Wednesday's 66-64 loss to New York with a left knee strain and is considered day to day.

The defeat marked the coaching debut of general manager Penny Toler, who fired Carol Ross on Sunday with the Sparks sitting in fourth place in the West. Nneka Ogwumike scored 23 points and Jantel Lavender added 16.

''I think it's always something to adjust to, but I think everybody took it maturely and kind of kept going,'' Ogwumike said of the coaching change. ''You can't stop, because no one else in the league is stopping.

''A lot of changes have been made this year for our team, and we're trying not to let what may seem like a distraction keep us from winning.''

Los Angeles has dropped four straight at Staples Center and is a league-worst 3-8 at home.

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