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Mercury draws Sparks in first round of the WNBA Playoffs

Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner and the Mercury will face a familiar opponent in Sandrine Gruda and LA in the first round.
Brittney Griner, DeWanna Bonner and the Mercury will face a familiar opponent in Sandrine Gruda and LA in the first round.Scott Mammoser

Coming off a record 29-5 regular season, the Phoenix Mercury opens its playoff run, to which many expect will end with a third title, at 7 p.m. Friday versus the Los Angeles Sparks (16-18), a rematch of a first round series from last year won by Phoenix by one point in the deciding game on the road.

The best-of-three series shifts to the Staples Center for Game Two at 6 p.m. Sunday, and an if necessary third game would be at 7 p.m. Aug. 26.

The No. 2 seeded Minnesota Lynx (25-9) faces the No. 3 San Antonio Stars (16-18) in the other Western Conference semifinal, which begins Thursday in Minneapolis and continues Saturday and potentially Monday.

In the East, top-seeded Atlanta (19-15) plays No. 4 Chicago (15-19) on days parallel to the Mercury’s series, and No. 2 Indiana (16-18) will take on No. 3 Washington (16-18) the opposite days. All games will be on either ESPN2 or NBATV.

This was the first time in the 18-year rivalry that the Mercury swept the season series with the Sparks, who are led by Candace Parker (19.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 4.3 apg), Nneka Ogwumike (15.8 ppg and 7.1 rpg), Jantel Lavender (11.9 ppg and 6.3 rpg), and Kristi Toliver (11.8 ppg and 4.2 apg).

“The bottom line is that they put their shoes on like we do,” Sparks coach Penny Toler said after her team lost at the Mercury Saturday night. “It’s one of those situations that we are coming in to win just like everybody else. The good thing about the playoffs is that everyone is 0-0 now, and this is a different team than when we started.”

Diana Taurasi led the Mercury with 16.2 points per game, which was eighth-best in the WNBA, followed by Brittney Griner (15.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg) and Candice Dupree (14.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg).

Taurasi just edged Lindsay Whalen for the WNBA lead in assists, becoming the first woman to capture a scoring title, which she did five times, and the assists crown. Two other members of the Mercury led the league in respective categories, Griner with a record 3.79 blocks per game and Erin Phillips with a .449 three-point shooting average.

For the season, Lynx forward Maya Moore led the WNBA with 23.9 points per game, and Courtney Paris of the Tulsa Shock collected 10.2 rebounds per match.