Because there has been nothing smooth about the Sparks' season, it was only natural that another dark cloud appeared on a night they enjoyed their biggest win of the year.
Reserve forward Rhonda Mapp was not at Staples Center on Thursday as the Sparks routed Minnesota, 88-65, before 8,784.
WNBA officials notified the team that she was being disciplined for an undisclosed infraction. Spark Coach Michael Cooper referred all inquiries to General Manager Penny Toler, who said, "All I can say is it's a league matter. But there will be more [today]."
That was the only bad news for the Sparks (22-10) as they won their third consecutive game since Lisa Leslie returned to the lineup. The victory, combined with Houston's loss to Sacramento, gave the Sparks a two-game lead in the Western Conference with two games to play.
Sacramento locked up the West's final playoff spot, eliminating Seattle.
The Sparks took advantage of a tired Minnesota team, shooting 53.4% from field, including 44.4% from three-point range. They controlled the rebounds (35-26), blocked six shots and led by as many as 28 points as Cooper played everyone who was available.
"In practice we had worked really hard on defense and our execution on offense," Cooper said. "I don't think we went through a three- or four-minute drought where we didn't score tonight, something else we worked on.
"I've always said if we come out, play smart and execute, we're tough to beat."
It was the Sparks' 16th consecutive win against Minnesota, and perhaps the biggest surprise was how the game got out of hand early. Before Thursday, 11 of the teams' last 12 meetings had been decided by fewer than 10 points.
Los Angeles burst to a 17-4 lead with less than seven minutes gone in the first half and kept applying the pressure. Nikki Teasley, who led all scorers with 17 points, was effective from the outside, making four of seven three-point attempts.
The Lynx (18-15) were unable to put together an early run in the second half to challenge the Sparks, especially not with Katie Smith going scoreless for the first time in 158 WNBA games. Smith, the league's fourth-leading scorer at 18.8 points a game, missed all six of her attempts from the field and did not shoot a free throw in 21 minutes of action.
Svetlana Abrosimova led Minnesota with 15 points.
Minnesota relieved some pressure on itself Wednesday, defeating Phoenix to clinch its first playoff berth. The Lynx finish the season Saturday at home against Detroit.