At the halfway point of the season for most teams, there has been some stratification in the standings. The Sparks (8-3) look to be one of five teams capable of winning the WNBA title, but they also are one of four teams on a second tier as the Seattle Storm have opened up a gap on the rest of the league.
Los Angeles is in the hunt to receive at least a bye into the second round in the WNBA's stepladder playoff format. The Sparks entered play Thursday tied with Las Vegas and Minnesota for second and completed a season sweep of Phoenix on Wednesday night with an 83-74 victory.
Candace Parker had 16 points and 12 rebounds while becoming the 17th player in league history to score 5,500 points. Brittney Sykes made a key basket with 4:40 to play, triggering a 10-1 burst after the Mercury had closed within 73-71.
"I came out and took what they gave me," Parker told the Sparks' official website. "I know our team really thrives when we push the ball in transition and I was just trying to attack the paint and trying to make the smart decisions early, whether I was finishing or kicking out for open three-point shooters."
Los Angeles has not recorded six consecutive victories since closing out the 2017 season on a seven-game winning streak.
Atlanta (2-10) is spiraling in the other direction, looking to avoid enduring a 10-game losing streak during a season for the second straight year. After five straight defeats by 10 or more points, the Dream had more fight in them Wednesday, losing 98-91 to defending champion Washington.
That was largely because Betnijah Laney and Courtney Williams combined for 65 points as they became only the second duo in franchise history to score at least 30 in a game. Laney scored a career-best 35 in her second 30-point game of the year, while Williams also set a new personal benchmark in points.
"It might be her best offensive game of her career," Dream coach Nicki Collen said about Williams post-game. "You saw why Courtney was a player we coveted, traded for and were really excited about. She had her bounce back. I thought Stella [Johnson] lit her up there at the start of the third quarter but I think ultimately that kind of charged her up and I thought she defended a whole lot harder. I thought you saw a glimpse of what Courtney Williams can do."
Though the Dream reached the 90-point mark for the third time this year, they are 1-2 in such contests and have yielded 90 or more in five straight games. Atlanta is last in the WNBA in scoring defense, giving up 92 points per game.
Los Angeles swept all three games between the teams last year.