Sparks-Lynx Preview

The Associated Press

A renewed focus on the defensive end has keyed a run that has the Los Angeles Sparks climbing the Western Conference standings.

Taking over first place, however, likely won't be easy in Minnesota.

The red-hot Sparks will attempt to win their fourth straight and move ahead of the Lynx on Friday night when the West's top teams meet for the second time in a week.

Since allowing a season-worst 97 points in a loss at Phoenix on June 14, Los Angeles (5-2) limited opponents to 58.7 per game while sweeping three games on its recent homestand.

The Sparks, who rank among the WNBA's stingiest defenses by holding opponents to an average of 70.6 points, held the defending West champion Lynx (6-2) to season lows in points and field-goal percentage (34.9) in an 87-59 home win last Friday.

It was Minnesota's most lopsided defeat since falling 108-79 at Connecticut on Aug. 16, 2011.

Los Angeles limited Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, Minnesota's top two scorers, to a combined eight points on 4-of-14 shooting before holding Washington leading scorer Ivory Latta to five in a 79-69 win over the Mystics on Sunday.

Guard Lindsey Harding, coming off a season-best 22-point game Sunday, leads the Sparks at 16.2 per game while also playing a large role on the defensive end.

"She's an aggressive point guard who sees the floor well, pushes in transition and attacks,'' said teammate Alana Beard. "On top of all of that, she plays really good defense, so it's nothing unusual from Lindsey.''

The Lynx, though, have been particularly unstoppable at the Target Center, averaging 91.0 points while winning all four home games by an average of 15.0 points. They've also won four of five overall and own a half-game lead over Los Angeles in the West.

The Sparks, 0-2 on the road, have dropped six straight in Minnesota - including a 94-77 loss in the 2012 conference finals.

Moore and Augustus each had 22 points to help the Lynx bounce back from their blowout loss in Los Angeles with an 88-79 victory over visiting Tulsa on Sunday.

"It doesn't matter who (our opponent is)," Moore told the team's official website. "Especially if it's from the Western Conference. We definitely want to make a statement and show who we are ... We still have a lot of work to do. (It's) very early in the season still."

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike has to be a concern for Minnesota after helping Los Angeles gain a 43-31 edge on the boards and 38-28 advantage in the paint in the first meeting.

Ogwumike had 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds in that victory, and has averaged 16.3 points during the team's three-game winning streak.

The clubs are scheduled to meet for the third time in 11 days July 2 in Los Angeles.

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