The Los Angeles Sparks know their road-heavy schedule over the rest of July could go a long way toward determining their postseason destiny. Unfortunately, that schedule includes a trip to KeyArena to meet the Seattle Storm.
In Lauren Jackson's last WNBA game for six weeks, the Storm look to extend their season-high win streak to six games and improve to 12-1 at home as they host the Sparks on Saturday night.
After going 4-3 on a seven-game homestand from June 22-July 9, the Sparks will play eight of their next nine on the road. Los Angeles (12-7) opened that rough stretch with an 87-69 loss to Sacramento on Thursday, and things don't get any easier as they head further north.
The Storm (13-7) lead the league with 11 home wins, and have outscored opponents by an average of 9.9 points there. They've won five straight at KeyArena, including each of the last four by double figures.
Jackson, the reigning league MVP and Seattle's leading scorer (20.6 points per game) and rebounder (7.1), overcame a horrible start to score 19 of her 25 points in the second half of an 89-78 home win over Phoenix on Thursday.
Saturday's game will be Jackson's last with the Storm for six weeks because she's leaving to train with the Australian national team for the Olympics.
"We're definitely going into (that) game with a lot of confidence," said Jackson, who'll miss five games before the WNBA takes its Olympics hiatus. "We're going to go out there and keep playing the way we have been ... and then after the game I'm (gone)."
That doesn't bode well for the Sparks, who are aware of the dangers posed by their upcoming schedule.
"We realize that the West is tough, and only a few games separate the top from the bottom," rookie forward Candace Parker said after following up a season-high 40-point performance with 14 on Thursday. "We're going on a serious road trip and we realize that we could easily slip behind so we just have to get our rest and try and do better."
Parker is making her first trip to Seattle as a pro in this highly anticipated matchup that features three of the top players in the WNBA. In addition to Parker, who ranks among league leaders with 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, Jackson and Sparks center Lisa Leslie - winners of five MVP awards combined - will square off in the middle.
"If you don't have tickets, you'd better get them," Storm forward Swin Cash said. "Tell your neighbors and grab your popcorn. We're going to give it everything we've got."
Parker had 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists as Los Angeles beat Seattle 76-62 at Staples Center on June 24. Leslie was 2-for-10 from the field and finished with seven points while Jackson had 10 on 3-of-10 shooting.