With Matt Wurst, WNBA.com

In her 10th WNBA season, Sparks center Lisa Leslie is still very much at the top her game and is one of the leading candidates to win her third WNBA Most Valuable Player Award. The Sparks finished with the best record in the Western Conference and are one of the favorites to win the title. For Leslie, it would be her third WNBA title, one of the only remaining holdovers from the Sparks dynasty. Yet the fact that the Sparks have rebuilt around their cornerstone and All-World center is a testament to how hard she has worked to improve each season. Now heading into the postseason, Leslie and the Sparks are healthy, focused and hungry. Yet despite not considering themselves the favorites, the Sparks would be disappointed with anything less than a third championship.

Q. With so many new faces in the lineup, what do you think is the secret to the Sparks chemistry this season?
"I think we have a lot of players that are hungry and want to win a championship, and I think everyone is making the personals sacrifices and putting aside whatever their individual wants are, and you put the team first. That attitude kind of shows itself in our work ethic and our unselfish play."

Q. Having played for a few different coaches in your career, how does Coach Bryant's style make him unique?
"I think Coach Bryant really understand what it takes to be a professional athlete, and for us as women. Him having daughters he relates to us very well, and in regard to his X's and O's he likes to put in plays but at the same time he likes for us to kind of figure things out, which makes a happy medium from having so much structure, from one extreme which was last year, and then this year we have structure but at the same time we are able to make changes on our own and collectively as a group, and decide what we want to do. So I definitely think that he is a player's coach and that kind of style has been successful. (Michael) Cooper was the exact same way and when you are able to give the players some leeway in decision making because we are the ones out there on the floor, then you are going to get a successful result."

Q. As one of the few original remaining players from 1997, what would it mean for you to win the MVP Award this season?
"Well it was definitely one of my goals that I wrote out in 2005 before I left for Russia. I wanted to win it in Europe first, so I won Best Center in the European Cup over there, and to win WNBA M.V.P. would just be fulfilling another one of my career goals for this season. But I always say when you win an individual award that the wolf is only as strong as the pack, and so my teammates really give the strength that I need and the stability out on the court, giving me the ball in the best position possible to score. It's a great honor to be on top of my game in the tenth season. That's really what I was striving for, knowing that it was the tenth anniversary and last year having the injuries and not playing up to par. My Uncle Craig said coming up to this season, 'If you play like you did last year then it's time to retire.' So I was like 'Okay, I'm going to do everything I can to be at my best.' I think we owe the fans to continue to improve every year and to put the best product on the court, and that's what I try to do."

Q. Do you think having someone like your husband, Michael, in your life makes it easier to go out and play basketball?
"Oh, definitely. Stability, whether it be physically, mentally, financially and spiritually more than anything, and finding that balance in every aspect is so important. Just being able to go out and play basketball and not have to worry about taking care of the family and all these other entities that we all have to worry about every day makes a big difference. We all have these issues that we deal with every day, but one thing about playing sports for a living is that you have to keep your mind clear in order to focus at the level that we focus at. Games are two or three hours. So I think having my personal life in order and happy makes it a lot easier for me to focus for a longer period of time without getting headaches."

Q. After having a great game, maybe a night when you score 25 or 30 points in a game, do you see highlights or film and get surprised surprise by yourself or something you have done?
"All the time. I think it's amazing when I see how many points I had or how many rebounds I grabbed. I really thrive on getting rebounds. It's kind of awesome to see, but the one thing about scoring 30 points or having 15 rebounds is that that when the day is over, you have to try to do it again tomorrow. That's always my drive too, the consistency. I just try to be as consistent as I am. You really want to be able to play at the level you know you are capable of every single night, though it is hard to do that because nobody is perfect. But that's what I strive for."

Q. With the championship as your ultimate goal, does it matter who you are playing in the playoffs?
"At this point I don't think it does because everybody is really strong and when it's playoff time it's 0-0. Anybody can win, it's anybody's trophy, and so having done it before and having a season where we were #1 and we won the championship, then also having seasons where we were #1 or #2 and didn't win the championship, those numbers don't matter anymore. Positioning is everything and we'd love to have home court advantage over every team if possible, but overall championships are won on the road. It does not matter whose house you are in. The West is full of so much talent all the way down to the last place teams. I don't think you have any advantages playing anybody. I can name all the teams... Houston, Sacramento, Seattle... there are no advantages anymore. Pparity is just the name of what is going on across the league."

Q. Are the high expectations that come with being the favorite something you thrive on or do you look at it as just another challenge?
"I really don't think we are the favorites. I think we have totally exceeded the media's and other teams' expectations for where we would have been prior to the start of the season. I think that when teams face us, they think there's only Lisa. But then there is Chamique and a lot of very good players, so I do not think we are the favorite team. It's a different atmosphere and I really try to prepare my teammates for that mentally. We are going to have to step up our game and elevate our play, so it will be a big challenge for us to try to come out and win the championship."

Q. Is it still possible to have fun in the postseason?
"Definitely, I think you always have fun when you're winning. We've been able to win some close games, so overall we feel really good and have had a good summer. Hopefully that will continue"

Q. What are the focal points that the Sparks are focusing on down the stretch?
"Outrebounding our opponents is number one, number two is knocking down our free throws, and three is just executing our offense and taking care of the ball."

Q. Who do you see emerging from each conference?
"I think Connecticut is one of the strongest, smartest teams in the East, but Detroit has so much talent. When they decide to play together, they can be really difficult to beat. So I would have to pick between Detroit and Connecticut. And for the West, you can't count out the defending champions. Sacramento is a really tough team and a lot of people have not mentioned them, but I have yet to forget about them. So Sacramento. Or L.A., of course."

Q. What is the mood before a playoff game? Is preparation any different?
"It just depends because each individual is different. For me, I think I'm really focused. I get kind of quiet, but we have some people who love laughter and joke a lot. Some people and love music and we dance around a little bit. I think for us, the atmosphere probably changes more than actual game day.

*All Photos: NBAE/Getty Images