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Sparks Lose Out to ‘Idols’

Times Staff Writer

If the Sparks reach the second round of the WNBA playoffs, they will have to give up their home-court advantage at Staples Center -- for at least one game.

The Western Conference finals are scheduled to begin Aug. 24, with the Sparks playing host to the next game two days later.

There is only one problem. Home will be at the Pond in Anaheim because Staples Center that night will be in use for the “American Idols 2006" tour.

Even that won’t be easy.

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Sparks President Johnny Buss said the Pond was secured Friday afternoon but that the team will need to transport not only its basketball floor but also its baskets because the Pond’s basket extensions do not fit.

Should a third playoff game be necessary, the team would return to Staples Center the next day -- floor, baskets and all.

Playing on the Sparks’ home floor “was one of the problems we had with going other places,” said Buss, whose staff had also contacted the Forum in Inglewood, the Pyramid at Long Beach State and Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.

“Anaheim was the next real choice,” Buss said. “We just knew we couldn’t play in Staples.”

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A spokesman for AEG, which owns and operates Staples Center, referred all questions to the Sparks.

According to Buss, Staples officials told the team at the beginning of the year that “an event” was being scheduled Aug. 26.

“They didn’t tell us what it was, but they did say it was ironclad,” he said. “We’d normally have first crack at that time of year, but they were holding that date.”

Buss said he notified the WNBA before the season of the potential conflict, just as league officials were determining possible playoff schedules. But, he said, the league and television partners ESPN and ABC went ahead with the schedule now in place.

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“We also didn’t know we would finish in first place,” Buss said. That gave the Sparks home-court advantage in the first round as well as the Western Conference finals.

“So we rolled the dice and lost on that one.”

Another thing working against the Sparks: The 2006 WNBA schedule as a whole was moved up this year so the season would end no later than Sept. 9, giving players time to join their various national teams for the world championships that begin in Brazil on Sept. 17.

The Sparks, who end the regular season Sunday against Minnesota, will open the first round of playoffs on the road Aug. 18, though the site has yet to be decided. It could be in Seattle, Houston or Phoenix.

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Game 2 will be Aug. 20, and Game 3, if necessary, Aug. 22. Both of those will be at Staples Center.

The WNBA finals are set to begin Aug. 30.


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