Mercury-Sparks Preview

The Associated Press

The Los Angeles Sparks should be feeling pretty good about themselves heading into the playoffs following a stellar performance in their regular-season finale, partly because it came against the team they face in the first round.

After splitting four regular-season meetings, the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury tip off their best-of-three Western Conference semifinal series Thursday night in Los Angeles.

The second-seeded Sparks (24-10) won three straight and 12 of 15 to end the regular season, including an 89-55 rout of Phoenix on Sunday. Candace Parker, who's captured WNBA MVP honors, and Jantel Lavender scored 16 points apiece as the team's top players were able to sit out the second half to rest up for the playoffs.

"I think it's good for our confidence, but there's a lot of things we can take from this," Parker said. "We got some (reserve) players in. We were able to play but rest a little bit. Combined the past two games I (haven't played a lot of minutes). But I think it's good for us, and going into next week ready to prepare for Phoenix in the playoffs."

The third-seeded Mercury (19-15) also spread around minutes, as guard Jasmine James played a team-high 30 off the bench and scored nine points. Diana Taurasi, second in this year's scoring race with 20.3 points per game, did play beyond the second quarter when she took a knee to the quad, though the injury won't keep her out of Game 1.

Candice Dupree, who averages 15.2 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds, didn't play because of a tight hamstring but also will be ready for this series.

Top overall pick Brittney Griner finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks in just over 22 minutes for Phoenix, which lost two of its final three.

Both teams had three days to rest and prepare for their series.

"It's going to be great for us to get off our legs and rest," Griner said. "I know I'm going to sit on the couch and rest. The only thing I'm doing is playing (video games). That's all I'm doing. I'm working my thumbs."

Griner knows the team will need more practice than that, though, if it is going beat the favored Sparks.

"It's going to be good," Griner said. "Don't base it off of (Sunday), but it's going to be good. We're going to compete and we're going to get after it."

The Mercury were held to a season low for points in the last meeting, but they've had some success against Los Angeles this season. Taurasi scored a season-high 34 points in a 97-81 victory June 14, then netted 32 in a 90-84 win July 18.

Parker had 25 points and 16 rebounds in that last Phoenix victory and averaged 19.3 points in the four meetings. She scored 21 in Los Angeles' 88-76 win July 14.

These teams last met in the playoffs when the Mercury beat the Sparks in three games in the 2009 West finals before claiming their most recent WNBA championship.

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