This was the matchup Lisa Leslie had hoped the Sparks wouldn't have in the first round of the WNBA postseason.
Yet, she also knew that facing the Phoenix Mercury was inevitable if the Sparks were going to win the West.
The inevitable is now.
Phoenix, seeded No. 1 in the West, visits the Sparks for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion tonight, boasting the league's top offense (92.8 points per game).
"I don't have any magical formula where we do one, two or three things and we'll win," said Leslie, who could be playing in her last home game before retiring after a storied 13-year career. "I don't have that for you right now against this team. We just have to find a way to win."
It is no wonder that Leslie expressed relief when it became clear the Sparks would play the Seattle Storm in the opening round and not have to deal with Phoenix's bench production (the Mercury has averaged 36.7 bench points in the postseason), its matchup zone (the Sparks shoot only 39%) and its fastbreak system (the Mercury scored at least 100 points eight times this season).
The Sparks (18-16) were 1-3 against Phoenix (23-11) in the regular season, though neither team presented a full lineup in those games. That's why Sparks forward Candace Parker says, "I like our chances."
With the Sparks winning 12 of their last 15 games, Coach Michael Cooper says, "We're where we want to be right now."
"The most important thing is we have to run when we can," he said. "Teams that like to run don't like to get ran on."
Parker, who leads the Sparks in the postseason with 16.7 points and nine rebounds per game, ticked off a list of things they need to master to get to the WNBA finals, including dominating the boards, limiting turnovers and perfecting defensive schemes.
The Sparks also know Phoenix is able to rally from double-digit deficits, most recently a fourth-quarter run in Game 3 to beat San Antonio.
"No lead is safe with this team," Sparks guard Noelle Quinn said. "They can score many points in a matter of seconds."
WNBA Western Conference finals
Best-of-three series; all games start at 7 p.m.:
Tonight: Phoenix vs. Sparks at Pauley Pavilion, ESPN2
Friday: Sparks at Phoenix, NBATV
Saturday: Sparks at Phoenix, NBATV