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Mercury's second unit closes out Sparks, chance for win record in finale Sunday

Jantel Lavender shoots over the Mercury defense in her loss Saturday.
Jantel Lavender shoots over the Mercury defense in her loss Saturday.
Scott Mammoser

The No. 1 overall seed in the WNBA Playoffs already wrapped up, the Phoenix Mercury defeated the Los Angeles Sparks, who were playing to avoid Phoenix in the first round, 76-69, Saturday in its home finale.

Phoenix improved to 28-5, which ties three other teams for the most wins in league history, and it has a chance to set a new mark at Seattle Sunday. The 16-1 record at home is second only to two undefeated teams, one of which being the 2001 Sparks, whose current edition dropped to 16-18. San Antonio (15-18) is at Chicago Sunday, and a win for the Stars moves them into the third seed and a meeting with No. 2 Minnesota, and the Sparks would return to Arizona for the semifinals beginning Aug. 22. The Stars captured the season series with LA, 3-1.

Both teams’ second units received most of the playing time Saturday, and Sparks forward Candace Parker did not dress for rest.

“We’re up by 20, there’s no use putting our starters back in and drilling them into the ground,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We won in the end, even though it wasn’t one of our best games, we can gain some positive experiences out of it, we can’t let their second unit outplay our second unit.”

Kristi Toliver nailed a three to give the Sparks a 7-6 lead three minutes in, and Phoenix took control afterwards, leading by 14 after one and 20 at halftime. The Sparks cut it to 61-50 after the third, with Jantel Lavender scoring 10 of her game-high 22 points in the period, and they came within three on an Armintie Herrington layup with 46 seconds left, but the Mercury finished the deal from the line.

Swedish forward Farhiya Abdi scored a career-high 15 points for the Sparks, and French center Sandrine Gruda grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds.

“We wanted to see who was going to come out and play in the second unit,” Sparks coach Penny Toler said. “At this point, we are just preparing for the playoffs, we fell short, but everyone played hard.”

Brittney Griner led Phoenix with 19 points, Candice Dupree scored 10 on her 30th birthday, and Mistie Bass recorded her first double-double of the year with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

“She competes hard, you never have to tell her to compete hard,” Brondello said of Bass. “They ( the bench) just got to relax, I have total confidence in them.”

Ewelina Kobryn, the 6-foot-4 Polish center, also scored a season-high eight points with four boards off the bench for Phoenix.

“We are in the first position, and I am so happy to be in this position to go to the playoffs,” said Kobryn who made the playoffs twice before with Seattle. “You never know what is going to happen, but right now I am healthy, we look good and hopefully, we get out of the first round.”

This was also the first time the Mercury swept the season series with its rival (5-0), dating back to the inaugural 1997 season.

As far as the Eastern Conference is concerned, the Dream will be the top seed, the Mystics lost to New York Saturday to fall to 16-18, and Chicago and Indiana are both 16-17 with finales Sunday to decide the final three seeds.

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