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Sparks give the Storm a little advance notice

September 15, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

No need for the Sparks to send a message in a bottle to their opening-round playoff opponent. The Seattle Storm stood directly in front of them Sunday afternoon.

Without giving away too much postseason strategy or energy, the Sparks showed they remain a dangerous team when they want to be, surging to a double-digit lead in the first five minutes at Staples Center and pulling away for a 65-48 victory in front of 13,142, their second-largest home crowd this season.

Heading into the regular-season finale, the teams already knew they'd meet again Friday at Staples in the opening game of the best-of-three Western Conference semifinal.

"That's exactly what we wanted to do, send a message without showing too much," said Sparks guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris, who came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points.

The Sparks (20-14) opened the game with their regular starting lineup, but the Storm (22-12) began substituting its key starters three minutes later and the Sparks followed shortly after. By then, they had surged to a 15-2 lead.

"I would have liked to get off to a better start defensively," Seattle Coach Brian Agler said.

During the opening six minutes, Sparks rookie Candace Parker had plenty of time to demonstrate why she's considered a league most-valuable-player candidate, totaling seven points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in the nationally televised game.

"I knew that our team needed a lot of energy," Parker said. "It's just about focus and playing hard and that's what I tried to do, that's playoff mode."

The Sparks were also hoping to forget their last game, which they lost by double digits to Atlanta, then a 3-29 expansion team.

"We're just a little more focused, and we understand what we need to do," Sparks center Lisa Leslie said. "It was a very embarrassing loss and not a good thing to happen for us at this time, but we have to move on."

Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said he simplified the game plan against the Storm. Still, he was prepared to keep his starters on the floor longer. When Agler began substituting his regulars, Cooper downshifted as well. The Sparks reserves took advantage of the extra minutes, as Ferdinand-Harris took a season-high 18 shots and Sidney Spencer contributed 11 points on five-for-eight shooting.

Already thin on the front line with the absence of 6-foot-5 center Lauren Jackson, the defending league MVP who will miss the first round of the playoffs after undergoing ankle surgery in late August, the Storm was also without forwards Swin Cash (lower back pain) and Sheryl Swoopes (concussion), who are day-to-day.

Shyra Ely scored 16 points to lead Seattle. Point guard Sue Bird, an MVP candidate who played only three minutes, was scoreless for the first time this season.



Sparks playoff schedule

First round, best of three.

Friday: vs. Seattle, 7:30 p.m., NBA-TV

Sunday: at Seattle, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Tuesday, Sept. 23: at Seattle, 6 p.m., ESPN2*

* If necessary

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