By BETH HARRIS, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Candace Parker is ready to make a run in the playoffs, if the Los Angeles Sparks can shed their inconsistency.
Parker and rookie Nneka Ogwumike had 22 points and 11 rebounds each, and the Sparks tuned up for the postseason with a 92-76 victory over the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx on Thursday night.
"We knew this was a team we'd possibly have to go through to win a championship, so everybody laid it out on the court," Parker said. "We wanted to wrap it up and make a statement."
Alana Beard added 13 points and Kristi Toliver had 10 points and eight assists for the Sparks (24-10), who ended the regular season with their fourth straight win while splitting the four-game season series with the Lynx in front of Clippers teammates Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. It was the biggest margin of victory by either team in their meetings this season.
"In spurts we were the best team in the league and in spurts we were the worst," Parker said in summing up the regular season. "In the playoffs, hopefully we'll be the best."
Monica Wright scored 19 points, and Devereaux Peters added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota (26-6), which had won six of its last seven games against the Sparks but fell to 3-19 all-time at Staples Center. Maya Moore had 13 points as the Lynx shot a season-low 35 percent.
"I thought we were getting great shots. We literally couldn't knock it in," Moore said. "I know I had some open shots. Our 3-point shooters had some open shots. They just weren't falling. The more disappointing thing was our defense, and not making it hard enough for their team to score, which is not like us. We really want to get that out of our system and bounce back from that."
The Lynx played without starting guard Lindsay Whalen, who didn't dress because of a cold. The West's top seed has two more games left before starting the playoffs. Coach Cheryl Reeve said she wasn't sure about Whalen's status for Friday's game at Phoenix.
"We'll have to see how she's feeling tomorrow," she said.
Asked if she would rest her starters until the playoffs, Reeve said, "It looks like that happened today."
The Sparks finished 16-1 at home where they outscored opponents by double-digits during the regular season under first-year coach Carol Ross. They open the playoffs at home against San Antonio on Sept. 27.
"We've got to get better on both ends. We're not great yet," Ross said. "We've knocked on the door of greatness a few times and slammed our finger in it. We have lapses."
The Sparks missed the playoffs last season, and in Parker's first four seasons in the league she has never gotten past the Western Conference finals. Ogwumike, a Final Four regular during her college career at Stanford, will be making her playoff debut.
"The level of play is going to boost up," she said. "I hope we realize that and continue to realize that."
Los Angeles outscored the Lynx 52-24 in the paint and was 15 of 19 from the free throw line in the game. The Sparks cruised through the fourth quarter after building a 21-point lead in the third.
"We didn't play well. We didn't defend. They came out and did everything they wanted," Reeve said. "Parker and Ogwumike played great, and we provided very little resistance. We couldn't make a shot."
The Sparks opened the third on a 13-0 run, with Beard scoring six points and Parker five. The Lynx hit three 3-pointers in the quarter, but trailed 74-55 heading into the final 12 minutes.
"We came in on a serious note," Ogwumike said. "We wanted to play for each other and that showed."
The Sparks led by 14 in the first half.
Parker scored 14 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter, and Ogwumike had 12 in the half. Los Angeles opened the game on a 20-9 run, led by Parker with seven and Ogwumike with six.
The Lynx were limited to 15 points in the opening quarter, and they were 1 of 15 from the 3-point line in the half.
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