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20080911/ATLLAS
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By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Writer

With two games to play, the Los Angeles Sparks can still earn home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. First they need to beat league-worst Atlanta - then they need the Dream's help.

The Sparks will try to win their seventh straight game at Staples Center on Thursday when they meet the Dream, who could play a vital role in determining where Los Angeles opens its playoff series.

Los Angeles (19-13) is two games behind Seattle for the West's No. 2 playoff seed, and the home-court advantage that goes along with it. The Sparks and Storm have split their two games so far, and will meet in the league's final regular-season game on Sunday at Staples Center.

If Los Angeles beats the Dream on Thursday, it will need some help from the expansion club to make the finale against Seattle mean something. Atlanta (3-29) will face Seattle on Friday, and a Dream win means home-court advantage will come down to the Storm-Sparks game Sunday.

Atlanta lost 83-69 on Sept. 2 in its only meeting with Seattle.

Los Angeles has won six straight at home dating to early July. The team's latest victory, though, was one of its most decisive on the road this season. Four Sparks scored in double figures in an 84-66 win at Houston on Saturday, one day after the team lost by 28 at San Antonio.

DeLisha Milton-Jones led the way with 16 points against the Comets as Los Angeles clinched a playoff berth.

"It was the first game in a long time that we played 40 minutes of good basketball," coach Michael Cooper said. "We had some downs when we started the game, but we kept our composure, especially after losing a tough game to San Antonio last night."

The 18-point victory at Houston matched the Sparks' largest winning margin on the road. They routed Atlanta 74-56 on May 25.

Milton-Jones had 15 points in that win, while Lisa Leslie contributed 14 and Candace Parker 12.

The Dream lost the first 17 games of their inaugural season before reeling off three wins in their next five games.

Atlanta has looked every bit like an expansion franchise recently, however. The Dream have lost 10 straight, including five since the Olympic break by an average of 14.0 points.

They played their most competitive game since mid-July on Monday against playoff-bound Indiana. Betty Lennox led Atlanta with 19 points, and hit two free throws with 38 seconds left to put her team ahead 77-76. But after a Fever basket, Lennox missed a 3-pointer, Erika DeSouza couldn't get her putback to go, and the Dream went on to lose 81-77.

"We were just trying to get the ball into the hands of someone who could score," coach Marynell Meadors said.

Atlanta must win its final two games to avoid finishing with the fewest victories of any expansion team in league history.

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