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By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Writer

With the Los Angeles Lakers 3,000 miles away in Boston to start the NBA finals, Staples Center's star tenants won't be back in town until Tuesday.

In the meantime, another potential star is ready to move in.

Candace Parker, the WNBA's No. 1 overall draft pick just two months ago, will make her home debut Friday night when her Los Angeles Sparks take on the defending champion Phoenix Mercury for the second time this season.

Parker, who is averaging 17.8 points and a league-high 10.6 rebounds through her first five games, had enormous expectations to live up to when the Sparks (4-1) made her the WNBA's top draft pick after she played just three seasons at Tennessee.

But Parker didn't take long to fulfill those high hopes. She set a WNBA rookie record by scoring 34 points in her debut, also grabbing 12 rebounds and adding eight assists as she helped Los Angeles top Phoenix 99-94 on May 17.

"She's the money player," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said after that game. "Put the ball in her hands and she did what she's supposed to do."

Los Angeles - which opened with five road games as the Lakers made their way through the NBA playoffs - closed its trip with an 81-77 overtime victory on Tuesday over Chicago. Parker, who grew up in nearby Naperville, had 12 points before fouling out in her first appearance near her hometown.

Three-time MVP Lisa Leslie, who has returned from maternity leave to average 17.0 points and 9.6 rebounds, had 18 points and 12 boards against the Sky. DeLisha Milton-Jones scored a game-high 24.

The Mercury (1-4) haven't been too successful as they've opened defense of their first WNBA title. They lost their first four games - three by five points or fewer - before beating Washington 98-93 on Tuesday.

"It's only one win, which doesn't mean much in the long run, but for us, it's a pretty good feeling," said guard Diana Taurasi, who had a season-high 29 points.

Taurasi, the No. 1 overall pick by Phoenix in 2004, is averaging 22.6 points this season, trailing only teammate Cappie Pondexter for the league's scoring lead.

Pondexter, who was the 2007 WNBA finals MVP, is averaging 26.0 points and had season highs of 32 points and seven assists in the loss to the Sparks on May 17.

Los Angeles is 18-3 all-time against the Mercury at Staples Center.

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