During every Sparks huddle, center Lisa Leslie emphasizes one thing.
"Have no regrets," she repeats.
The Sparks have had little to regret lately. Their 75-63 victory over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday in front of an announced crowd of 9,615 at Staples Center was their sixth consecutive win.
It was 12 days ago when the Sparks were 8-13 and it was uncertain whether they were playoff-bound. Their latest victory pushes them to a 14-13 mark and three games ahead of the San Antonio Silver Stars and Minnesota Lynx for the third playoff spot with seven games left. They are also two games behind the Seattle Storm for the second seeding.
Sparks Coach Michael Cooper said he will not feel comfortable with his team's playoff chances until it secures 18 wins. Hence, Leslie's message.
"Sometimes you leave a game and you can think all night of what you could've done," said Leslie, who notched her third double-double this season with 21 points and 12 rebounds. "I'm like, 'Don't leave this arena with that feeling anymore.' "
At first, it appeared the Sparks might feel that way.
The Sky built an 18-11 first-quarter lead for several reasons. The Sparks shot 35.7% from the field. They allowed center Candice Dupree to score nine first-quarter points. The Sparks committed four turnovers, including four by Leslie. The Sky then went on a 13-4 run in the second quarter to take a 32-21 lead with 2:13 left.
"Everyone seemed to be dead," said Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, who scored 12 points. "No energy and no bounce."
That quickly changed.
Leslie scored six unanswered points to close the gap to 32-27 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Sparks went on an 11-0 run, capped by Leslie's layup that gave the Sparks their first lead since the start of the game at 41-39 with 5:22 left. The rest of the third quarter featured seven lead changes and five ties before the Sparks held a 54-52 edge.
The Sparks never relinquished their lead after opening the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run, and shot 53.3% overall.
"When we run we're able to hit the mismatch early," said Sparks forward Candace Parker, who scored 21 points. "I'm not talking about taking quick shots but pushing the ball up the court and starting our offense with 18 seconds on the clock instead of 13."
The Sparks eventually did that, living up to Leslie's mantra. But they're not done living up to the billing.
"This is L.A.," Leslie said. "It's all about winning or nothing."