Sparks look to dismiss Mercury, advance to Finals

With Candace Parker leading the charge, the Los Angeles Sparks are on the verge of returning to the Finals to defend their WNBA title.

Parker scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Sparks' 86-72 road win over the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five semifinal series.

Los Angeles has won nine in a row heading into Sunday's Game 3 in Long Beach, Calif.

"Last season, everyone remembers us winning the championship, but we struggled toward the end of the regular season," Parker told reporters after Thursday's win. "We stumbled into the playoffs, not record-wise but we weren't playing our best basketball."

The Sparks lost three of five last season entering the playoffs, but pulled it together in the postseason and beat the Minnesota Lynx in a thrilling five-game series in the Finals. The two teams appear headed for a Finals rematch as the Lynx lead the Washington Mystics 2-0 in their best-of-five semifinal series.

The Mercury will try to delay that Finals rematch for at least one more day, but they'll need to take care of the basketball better than they did in Game 2. Phoenix turned it over 18 times in Thursday's loss.

"Taking care of the ball is something we can control, and I think we were getting a little impatient at times in our offense," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said Thursday night. "We allowed them to get out and run on us. They're just too fast and their guard play in the second half really hurt us."

Parker was dominant on both ends of the court for the Sparks on Thursday. She had six assists, blocked three shots and recorded two steals. Los Angeles out-rebounded the Mercury 38-28.

Veteran guard Diana Taurasi had 21 points to lead Phoenix, but seemed to wear down in the second half. She scored only five points in the second half, one game after enduring her worst offensive performance of her playoff career. Taurasi had only six points on 2-of-10 shooting in a 79-66 loss in Game 1.

"We have to help her get open and get a little more separation for easier looks," Brondello said of Taurasi.

The Sparks have won five straight against the Mercury.
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