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By LAURA MEDINA, STATS Writer

A tough loss their last time out halted the Los Angeles Sparks' momentum in the pursuit of the franchise's ninth postseason berth.

The Sparks, who have three games left to improve their playoff positioning, aim to regroup on Saturday as they visit the slumping Houston Comets.

Los Angeles (18-13) secured a victory heading into the league's break for the 2008 Beijing Games, then rolled to three consecutive wins following the month-long hiatus by holding its opponents to 58.0 points per contest.

But the team, which was looking for its season-high fifth straight victory, was unable to continue its strong defensive play on Friday, falling 76-58 at San Antonio.

The Sparks trailed by six points in the first quarter, then took their only lead of the game on Temeka Johnson's layup 1:26 into the second. But they missed nine of 12 shots during the next eight minutes, and were faced with a 14-point deficit at halftime.

"That run was a major turning point in this game," said rookie star Candace Parker, who led the team with 17 points.

DeLisha Milton-Jones added 12 points, but Lisa Leslie - second on the team with 15.6 points per game - was held to seven on 3-for-11 shooting for Los Angeles, which has dropped three of its last four on the road to fall to 7-9 as visitors.

Saturday's matchup in Houston (14-15) is the Sparks' last game away from home this season, but it's also one in a stretch of three contests they'll play as they try to return to the playoffs after missing out last season with a 10-24 record.

Still, Los Angeles is in a favorable position to get back to the postseason as it currently sits third in the Western Conference, trailing both Seattle and San Antonio, who are tied for the top seed.

Fifth-place Houston, meanwhile, is three games behind the Sparks, and hasn't done much to help boost its chances of returning to the playoffs after failing to qualify for just the second time last year by matching its franchise-worst record (13-21).

The Comets had their eight-game home winning streak snapped on Tuesday, losing 90-87 in overtime to New York. It was their first defeat at Reliant Arena, where they will play three of the final five regular-season contests, since falling to Washington on June 18.

Tina Thompson scored a season-high 34 points - three shy of her career best - and reserve Matee Ajavon added 16 for the Comets, who fell to 0-3 since returning from the Olympic break. It's their longest skid since dropping five in a row to open the season.

Houston and Los Angeles have split two meetings in 2008, each team winning at home. The Sparks posted an 82-74 victory on July 9, while the Comets came away with a 75-72 win on July 19 in the teams' most recent matchup.

Leslie has averaged 14.5 points, and Parker has totaled 56 for Los Angeles in the season series.

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