Series Preview: Los Angeles Sparks vs. Phoenix Mercury
By Scott Stanchak, WNBA.com

All-Stars Lisa Leslie and Diana Taurasi are shooting for a trip to the WNBA Finals.
Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images
All good things came in threes for the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks.

The number-one seeded Mercury found themselves in a deciding Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night. Their meeting with the San Antonio Silver Stars was knotted up 72-72 with just over eight minutes to go when the ball got into the hands of Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi. The WNBA scoring champ pulled up and drained a three; Phoenix never looked back.

Just one day earlier, in Los Angeles, the Sparks also found themselves in a Game 3 scenario, with their season on the line against the number-two seeded Seattle Storm. The Sparks, who came into the playoffs as the three seed, took the series opener, but lost by just one point in Game 2. When guard Tina Thompson knocked down a three-pointer just seconds into the deciding game, the Sparks went up for good.

And in keeping with our theme of threes, it should be noted that the team's biggest stars - Taurasi of the Mercury and Candace Parker of the Sparks both wear jersey No. 3.

The Western Conference Finals meeting between the Mercury and Sparks is one featuring both the league’s best and one of the hottest teams. The Mercury (23-11) finished the regular season with the most wins, while Los Angeles’ 12-5 record in the season's second half was best among all teams.

Gm 1: at L.A., Wed., 9/23, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Gm 2: at Phoenix, Fri., 9/25, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 3*: at Phoenix, Sat., 9/26, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Taurasi, the WNBA scoring champion, continued her impressive season, averaging 23 points over the three-game series against San Antonio. Guard Cappie Pondexter (16.7 ppg) was also a key contributor for the Mercury. Off the bench, forward Penny Taylor and guard DeWanna Bonner dropped over 14 points a game each. Bonner also plucked down about eight rebounds a night.

For the Sparks, Lisa Leslie’s career is extended a few more games. The WNBA great has announced her retirement, but has hopes for a third title. She’s been more than helpful in that quest, averaging a double-double (13 ppg, 10.7 rpg) in the first round. Last season's MVP Parker (16.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Thompson (14 ppg) also played important parts, as did guard Betty Lennox, who provided a boost off the bench with 11.3 points per night.

Los Angeles also made a swap in their starting lineup heading into Game 3. Out was guard Kristi Harrower, who averaged just three points in the series. She was replaced on the floor by Noelle Quinn (6.3 ppg, 3.7 reb.). Despite Harrower’s 26 starts this season, Sparks head coach Michael Cooper may stick with Quinn’s hotter hand.

Phoenix owns the season series against the Sparks, 3-1; however, both teams were missing key players in each of the matchups. Parker was out two games, while Leslie was sidelined for one. Phoenix was without Taurasi for their final meeting against Los Angeles, a game which resulted in a 81-78 loss for the Mercury. Pondexter averaged 20 points in the four meetings for Phoenix, while Lennox had 16.2 throughout the series.

The Mercury won the WNBA Finals back in 2007, but missed the postseason with a 16-18 record last year. Los Angeles, meanwhile, has two championships, both coming in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002. Leslie picked up the Finals MVP award in both of those series. You can bet she’ll play as hard as she ever has to get that last trophy, her third.


2009 Regular Season: Phoenix 3, Los Angeles 1

Some fast facts about the conference finals matchup:
  • Parker missed two of the four games against each other, while both Leslie and Taurasi each missed one.
  • Thompson is looking for her fifth title. She has four with the Houston Comets.
  • Harrower spent the first two years (1998-99) of her career in Phoenix.
  • Mercury guard Temeka Johnson was a member of the Sparks from 2006-08.
  • The Sparks and Mercury have met in the playoffs only once before: the 2000 West semifinals. The Sparks swept the series 2-0.

Friday, June 19, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Mercury 89, Sparks 80 | Box Score
Phoenix Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (21 pts., 6 reb.), Temeka Johnson (18 pts. 7 ast.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Betty Lennox (16 pts., 5 reb.), DeLisa Milton-Jones (15 pts., 8 reb.)

Sunday, July 05, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA Mercury 104, Sparks 89 | Box Score
Los Angeles Leaders: Tina Thompson (17 pts., 6 reb.), DeLisha Milton-Jones (15 pts., 7 reb.)
Phoenix Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (21 pts., 4 reb.), DeWanna Bonner (17 pts., 10 reb.)

Thursday, August 27, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA Mercury 98, Sparks 90 | Box Score
Los Angeles Leaders: Lisa Leslie (23 pts., 5 reb.), Betty Lennon (18 pts., 6 reb.)
Phoenix Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (26 pts., 6 ast.), Diana Taurasi (20 pts., 4 reb.)

Sunday, September 13, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Sparks 81, Mercury 78 | Box Score
Phoenix Leaders: Temeka Johnson (14 pts., 5 reb.), Penny Taylor (12 pts, 5 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Candace Parker (24 pts., 14 reb.), Betty Lennox (14 pts., 6 reb.)


See how the teams match up position by position
*Averages are from the 2009 playoffs
Temeka Johnson, G, Mercury
7.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 3.3 APG
Noelle Quinn, G, Sparks
6.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.7 APG
Cappie Pondexter, G, Mercury
16.7 PPG, 2 RPG, 1.7 APG
Candace Parker, G/F, Sparks
16.7 PPG, 9 RPG, 1.3 APG
Diana Taurasi, F, Mercury
23 PPG, 6 RPG, 5.3 APG
Tina Thompson, F, Sparks
14 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 APG
Le'coe Willingham, F, Mercury
6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.7 APG
DeLisha Milton-Jones, F, Sparks
8.7 PPG, 6 RPG, 2.3 APG
Tangela Smith, C, Mercury
9.3 PPG, 6 RPG, 0.7 APG
Lisa Leslie, C, Sparks
13 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 4.7 APG
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