Sparks-Storm Preview

The Los Angeles Sparks knew they'd have to protect their home court in Game 1 to have a realistic chance of winning their playoff series against the Seattle Storm.

They did that without much of a problem - but winning in Seattle could be a much tougher task.

The Sparks will get their first chance to close out the Storm and become just the second team to win at KeyArena this season on Sunday as the teams play Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

Los Angeles came into the playoffs having beaten Seattle twice this season at Staples Center, but having lost four straight to the Storm on the road by an average of 17.3 points dating to their 2006 first-round series.

The Sparks made their task a little less daunting by taking the first game of the best-of-three series on Friday in Los Angeles, building a 17-point halftime lead on their way to a 77-69 victory.

"All we've done is start the playoffs," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "We know we've got our work cut out for us going up there."

Los Angeles came away with the win despite not getting big scoring efforts from stars Candace Parker (18.5 points per game) and Lisa Leslie (15.1). Parker had 11 points and Leslie 10 on Friday, but both had solid all-around games.

Parker, the league's leading rebounder (9.5 per game), had eight rebounds and seven assists, while Leslie had 11 boards and five blocks.

"I feel really good about our chances," said Leslie, who was named WNBA defensive player of the year on Friday for the second time in her career. "You've got to beat us twice in a row and that's going to be tough to do."

The Storm got a game-high 23 points from point guard Sue Bird on Friday, but other than Bird - who went 9-for-15 from the floor - Seattle shot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent).

Bird, fourth in the league with 5.1 assists per game, has had to pick up the scoring slack with reigning league MVP Lauren Jackson sidelined after having ankle surgery. Jackson, who was averaging 20.2 points before her injury, isn't expected back before the finals, should the Storm make it that far.

Cooper, though, isn't so sure.

"She's walking pretty well on the other end every time I watched her," he said. "We prepared for her this game. They're a very good basketball team without her, but they become a great team with her."

Even without Jackson, the Storm have an imposing advantage at KeyArena. Seattle went 16-1 in the regular season at home, and the only loss came to Atlanta on Sept. 12 after the Storm had already clinched home-court for the first round.

But Bird, who averaged 14.5 points in her first two games against the Sparks this season, knows Seattle has no margin for error.

"Our season is down to just one game," she said.

Game 3, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Seattle.

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