Sparks again are tamed by the Mercury

The circumstances were different, but the Sparks had already traveled down this path.

They learned the day before their home matchup Thursday with the Phoenix Mercury they'd be without starting point guard Kristi Harrower, who went to Australia to attend her grandmother's funeral.

Then the Sparks found out just before tipoff that forward Candace Parker would be absent because of "personal issues that are family-related," said a source close to the team.

So came the Sparks' third loss to the Mercury this season -- this one a 98-90 decision in front of 9,586 at Staples Center. It ended the Sparks' six-game winning streak and kept them three games behind the Seattle Storm for the second playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We'll get our chance again," said center Lisa Leslie, who scored a team-high 23 points. "We have to find a way to beat that team because that's the team that I believe we'll have to go through in order to get a championship."

Yet they haven't defeated the Western Conference-leading Mercury (19-9) this season, partly because, Leslie observed, "We've yet to play Phoenix with our full team yet." She sprained her right knee and bruised her right hip June 19 in an 89-80 loss, and missed the next 11 games.

Parker made her debut July 5, 53 days after delivering her daughter, Lailaa, and was beginning her transition process in what ended to be a 104-89 loss.

Fortunately for the Sparks, Parker will return to practice today and will play Sunday against Connecticut, a team source said. Harrower will miss two more games.

In the first quarter, the Sparks' starting lineup that featured Betty Lennox (who finished with 18 points) at point guard and Noelle Quinn (12 points) at shooting guard suited them just fine.

The Sparks (14-14) went on a 10-0 run en route to a 34-19 first-quarter lead off 65% shooting. Leslie scored 15 points in the first quarter, despite playing only 6:22.

In the second quarter, Phoenix started with 13 unanswered points.

The Sparks shot 25% from the field and forward DeLisha Milton-Jones picked up her fourth foul with 17 seconds left. The Sparks, however, maintained a 47-42 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Phoenix went on a 16-6 run for an 89-79 lead. The Sparks answered with a 9-0 run and trailed 89-88 with 2:45 left but were outscored 9-2 the rest of the game.

"It's just our defense," Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said. "We gave up too many shots and we weren't attacking the basket.

"We had opportunities in transition but we just didn't get it done."


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