Sparks-Liberty Preview

The Associated Press

Key performances from reserve players helped both the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty to wins in their previous games.

Los Angeles hopes Jantel Lavender can complement Candace Parker as another viable inside option, while more consistency from Alex Montgomery could help New York chase down its fourth straight playoff berth.

The Sparks travel to New York on Saturday, wrapping up a season-long five-game trip.

After starting the season 0-4 on the road, Los Angeles (15-7) has won six of seven away from home and three in a row. The first two of those victories came without Candace Parker as Lavender combined for 27 points.

With Parker back Thursday at Indiana, Lavender returned to the bench, but provided a season-high 18 points along with nine rebounds in a 74-64 win.

"I just wanted to come in like I started the game," said Lavender, who averaged 5.4 points prior to the last three contests. "Candace is a great player. I just did the little things, rebounded and set screens."

Parker had 17 points and six rebounds in her first contest since claiming MVP honors in the All-Star Game on July 27. She and Lavender were a combined 16 of 28 from the field as Los Angeles tallied 50 points in the paint.

"Lindsey (Harding) did a great job of getting us in sets where she knew we could score," Lavender said. "It just came down to us really executing and making sure we got to the end of the play, and we did that a lot."

While Los Angeles holds second place in the Western Conference by a healthy margin, New York (9-12) is virtually tied with Washington for the East's fourth and final playoff spot after a 93-88 home win over the Mystics on Tuesday.

"I think we can turn things around," said Cappie Pondexter, who finished with 21 points and eight assists. "Instead of taking our anger out on each other, we made big plays down the stretch. When we have that kind of mentality, we can play with anyone."

Alex Montgomery scored a career-high 21 points off the bench, including 13 in the second quarter. The 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft had never scored more than 13 in a game.

Second-leading scorer Essence Carson (14.3 ppg) is sidelined for the season with a torn ACL, so more outbursts from Montgomery could be crucial to help lessen the pressure on Pondexter, who averages 18.2 points.

"She can be a good scoring threat for us," Pondexter said. "It's what we need if we're going to make a playoff push."

Los Angeles won the first meeting 97-89 on July 4 despite 34 points, six assists and five steals from Pondexter. The Liberty allowed the Sparks to shoot 64.5 percent and surrendered their most points since a 102-70 loss at Minnesota on June 21, 2012.

Kristi Toliver led the Sparks with 29 points, and is averaging 24.0 points over her last three contests versus New York.

A Liberty win would mark the third straight season series split.

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