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Lynx, Sparks ready for another showdown

Things haven't changed much since the WNBA's first Game of the Year.

The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks are still the top two teams in the league, in line to get byes into the best-of-five playoff semifinals.

The teams meet Friday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., in a rematch of the Lynx's 88-77 home win on July 6.

Both teams lost on Sunday. Minnesota lost 84-82 on the road against the Indiana Fever in its first game without point guard Lindsay Whalen, who broke a bone in her hand during an Aug. 3 win over Atlanta. She had surgery the next day.

While the usual timeframe for recovery from such an injury is 3-to-4 weeks, head coach Cheryl Reeve is confident her point guard will return.

"We're going to have Lindsay back, that's the great thing," Reeve told reporters. "She's going to play again this season. The healing has begun."

Guard Renee Montgomery, a 10-year veteran, has run the point in Whalen's absence.

"I'm just going to bring high energy at all times" Montgomery said. "Ball pressure and pace. Same things I brought off the bench I'm going to bring into the starting lineup. I'm not going to change what I do, I'm just going to be doing it in a different position."

Montgomery had six assists in the Lynx's 81-72 win at Atlanta on Tuesday.

Reeve praised Whalen's floor leadership, calling her "the head of the snake."

"I don't need Renee Montgomery to try to be Lindsay Whalen," Reeve stressed. "That is probably the biggest thing."

Montgomery, who had been Minnesota's top bench player, added, "I'm going to play my game. Just in a different role."

While Minnesota is 21-3, with a 3 1/2-game lead in the standings, Friday's game might be more crucial for Los Angeles.

The Sparks (18-7) are just two games up on third-place Connecticut.

Head coach Brian Agler's team will need an improvement over its performance in Sunday's 85-79 loss in Dallas.

"They just outplayed us," Agler said, according to the website Swish Appeal. "I don't think it's about playing in Dallas, I think that Dallas is just a different type of team.

"They're very aggressive, they get to the free throw line a lot, it's a lot of second shots and that's a big part of how they have success. Tonight, we didn't do a very good job dealing with that."

The Sparks didn't deal well with the Wings on the boards.

Dallas had a 47-31 rebounding advantage and grabbed 16 on the offensive end, while Los Angeles had just four.

"I mean, obviously, it didn't turn out the way we wanted it to," Sparks forward Candace Parker said.

"But they're a good team, they're fighting position, as are we. So, I think, obviously, them outrebounding us by 16 wasn't in our favor."

This is the second of five road games in 12 days for Los Angeles, which is just 6-6 away from home this season.

The Sparks will face the New York Liberty on Sunday afternoon before heading to Washington and Chicago.

Minnesota will meet the Storm in Seattle on Sunday.

The third and final regular-season meeting of the 2016 WNBA Finals participants is scheduled for Aug. 26 in Los Angeles.

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