LOS ANGELES, Sept. 14 (AP) -- With most of the big names playing limited minutes or injured, Seattle and Los Angeles hardly looked like a couple of WNBA playoff-bound teams.
The two teams will meet in the first round beginning Friday night at Staples Center, where the third-seeded Sparks were 12-5 during the regular season while winning the season series 2-1 over the No. 2 Storm.
"I believe we're the best team in the league. We just have to show it,'' Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper said. "One of our Achilles' heels has been playing up to our opponents' level. Seattle plays at a very high level and we know we have to match that.''
"We didn't play as efficiently as we could have,'' he said. "The Sparks' frontcourt is probably as good as there's ever been in the league. Hopefully we'll find a way to compete (in the playoffs).''
Shyra Ely was the only player in double figures with 16 points for the Storm, who are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season after finishing with a 22-12 record. Seattle's points were a season low.
"Obviously, we didn't see the right Seattle team. Their coach was looking out for (the playoffs) and so were we,'' Cooper said. "The important thing is to play well going into the playoffs and that is what we did. Our reserves did a great job. They're feeling good about themselves and rightfully so. We know they can play well.''
The Sparks (20-14) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, when they lost to Sacramento in the conference finals. They were coming off a loss to Atlanta, the league's worst team and one the Storm beat in their previous game.
"It's 0-0 and it's anybody's championship,'' Leslie said. "With (defending champion) Phoenix being out, the trophy is wide open.''
The Sparks opened the game on a 9-0 run and didn't allow the Storm to score until there was about five minutes left. Seattle's six points tied its season low for points in the first quarter and its 18 first-half points were a season worst.
"We showed great character battling,'' Seattle's Katie Gearlds said. "We could have easily given up and lost by 40, but we didn't.''
Los Angeles led 40-18 at halftime, helped by Sidney Spencer's nine points. She finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
"When our effort is on the same level as our talent, then you see games like tonight,'' Milton-Jones said.
The Sparks' commanding lead allowed Cooper give his bench valuable minutes heading into the playoff opener. Leslie had two points in seven minutes and Parker scored nine in nine minutes.
With Milton-Jones handling the offensive load, the Sparks stretched their lead to 52-30 after three quarters despite both teams scoring 12 points each in the third period.
The Storm ran off six consecutive points to open the fourth and get within 16 points, the closest they came.