After predicting that energy would be the decisive factor in the Sparks' matchup Sunday with the Connecticut Sun, Coach Michael Cooper saw that variable unfold in many ways.
The Sparks displayed it when they stormed to an early double-digit lead. They lacked it when they allowed Connecticut to creep to within single digits in the second half.
Cooper monitored it with center Lisa Leslie and guard Noelle Quinn, both of whom were ill with flu and fever, respectively, last week but were deemed well enough to play.
And the rest of the team sustained it while picking up the scoring slack.
That led to a 91-81 Sparks victory over the Sun in front of an announced 11,072 at Staples Center, their seventh win in eight games. It moved the Sparks (15-14) three games ahead of the Minnesota Lynx and San Antonio Silver Stars for the third playoff spot in the Western Conference with five games remaining.
"It's very important, especially with people getting sick," said guard Betty Lennox, who accounted for nine of the team's 27 bench points. "We're getting to the playoffs and we need that. This is the time to peak and time to shine."
The Sparks showed that when they went on a 16-0 run and created a 28-13 lead with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
They built a 47-27 halftime lead because they held the Sun, the league's second-worst shooting team, to 23.7% shooting and gave up only three field-goal attempts in the paint. The Sparks out-rebounded Connecticut, 28-16, and attacked the Sun's zone with 26 points in the paint.
"We didn't just create the opportunities ourselves," said Sparks forward Tina Thompson, who had a team-high 21 points, her best effort since a 30-point performance July 28 against Minnesota. "Everyone had to look and see the mismatches and pass us the ball in order for us to finish the shots."
As for the second half? Candace Parker, who notched her 10th double-double with 20 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, duly noted: "If we didn't have that lead like we did in the first half, it would've been a one- or two-point game."
That's because the Sun opened the second half with a 9-2 run. Tan White's three-pointer at the 1:36 mark cut the Sparks' lead to 61-54.
"I know I'm low on energy, but I thought, what is wrong with everybody else?" said Leslie, who scored eight points on four-for-11 shooting in 22 minutes. "We have to find a way to come out with more energy in the third quarter."
The playoff hunt recognizes only bottom-line results, though, even if Cooper would have liked the team to sustain the energy for the entire game.
"That start we got early really helped us because we limped to the finish line," he said. "But a win is a win. However it is, we'll take them."