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Silver Stars-Sparks Preview

Sep 8, 2009 - 1:23 AM By BRETT HUSTON STATS Writer

San Antonio (14-17) at Los Angeles (15-16), 10:30 p.m. EDT

Concerned with simply qualifying for the playoffs prior to their last game, the San Antonio Silver Stars now have a new goal in mind - leapfrogging the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Silver Stars can pull even with the Sparks in the standings while clinching the season series Tuesday night at Staples Center as San Antonio looks to sweep a home-and-home set.

San Antonio (14-17) entered Saturday's game against Los Angeles one game ahead of Minnesota for the Western Conference's fourth and final playoff spot, and that's where it remained after an 89-72 win over the Sparks combined with a Lynx victory.

The Silver Stars' third straight win, though, also pulled them within a game of Los Angeles (15-16) for third place in the West, a spot that would allow them to avoid top-seeded Phoenix in the first round.

"The beginning of the season is over, and the last six games are very important," guard Vicki Johnson said after tying a career high with 27 points Saturday. "The team that's playing well at that time is the team that does well in the playoffs and the championship."

If Johnson keeps playing the way she has in the past two games, San Antonio has to feel as good about its chances as any team. The 12-year veteran, who is retiring after the season, had scored 5.6 points per game this season before averaging 22.0 in her past two contests.

"She still has those little bursts of energy," guard Becky Hammon, the league's second-leading scorer at 19.5 points per game, said of Johnson. "You can still throw the ball up (the floor) to her and you know she's going to turn the jets on and go underneath and get it."

The Sparks held Hammon to 11 points on Saturday and have limited her to 15.0 points per game this season, but San Antonio has won two of three meetings. A Silver Stars win Tuesday would be their second this season at Staples Center, and would give them the tiebreaker should they finish with the same record as the Sparks.

By losing for the third time in four games, Los Angeles blew its final chance to catch Seattle for the West's No. 2 seed. The 17-point margin of defeat was the Sparks' largest since falling 81-52 at Detroit on June 8.

Los Angeles shot 55.4 percent Saturday - including 68.0 percent in the first half - but was doomed by 15 turnovers and 4-of-13 shooting from 3-point range. San Antonio made 13 of its 21 shots from long distance.

"Turnovers killed us tonight, and our defense wasn't very good," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "It's always a big deal when you give a team like that second and third shots. But in the second half it didn't matter what we did, they got on fire and they were hitting shots."

Lisa Leslie, who's averaged 16.0 points this season against San Antonio, is averaging 19.4 in her last five games - 0.8 more than teammate and reigning MVP Candace Parker in that span.