Sparks play for playoff positioning against Liberty

This is what the Los Angeles Sparks know:

There are three games left in the regular season.

Tuesday's game against the New York Liberty is their last home game until the postseason.

They've already clinched a spot in the postseason, which starts Aug. 21.

Who the Sparks play in the postseason, where they will start the postseason, and when is up in the air.

One other thing the Sparks know, is if they don't play better than they have in their past 10 games (5-5 record), their run to two straight WNBA Finals will end.

Los Angeles (18-13) and Connecticut are tied in fourth place. Phoenix sits 1/2 game behind and arch-nemesis Minnesota is a full game behind the Sparks.

And with New York coming to Staples Center with the second-worst mark in the league at 7-23, Los Angeles would seem to have the upper hand.

Well ... the last time the Sparks tasted victory was Wednesday in New York when they outscored the Liberty in the fourth quarter for an 82-81 win.

Sparks coach Brian Agler said his team really controls its own destiny.

"It's an optimistic viewpoint, but the reality is we have to do things better on the court. I just don't see us, at this moment, doing that on a consistent basis," Agler said. "So, whether we find that, I don't know. Has this core group done it before? Yes they have, but we've been inconsistent with that this year."

Agler would love to see the Sparks come close to the type of performance they displayed in win over the Liberty on June 24. The Sparks held Tina Charles to 10 points, and the Liberty shot just 38.3 percent from the field and scored a league-low 54 points.

Don't be deceived -- the Sparks are more than capable of playing that kind of defensive against anyone, including most recently, Minnesota.

After holding the Lynx to 57 points on Aug. 2, Candace Parker talked about how their defense might be able to carry them through the postseason.

"I think, defensively, we were on point," Parker said. "We were helping each other, we didn't give them anything easy. Even when they scored, it worked for. I think, for us, that's what we need to do and want to do."

Nobody in New York envisioned a season like this for first-year heafd coach Katie Smith. The Liberty have lost nine straight and at 7-23 have snapped a run of three straight seasons with 20-plus wins.

Future Hall of Famer Tina Charles has taken this year's struggles personally and promises to give 100 percent until the final second of the regular season.

"I never take it for granted," she said. "Playing for the New York Liberty is an honor. I hold this jersey and organization near and dear to my heart. I always just try and seize the moment.

"We are just going to go out there and try to win some games. We are going to continue to get better, be coachable, listen to the coaching staff, and pay attention to detail. We have to take it one game at a time."

New York is coming off a nine-point loss to Atlanta on Sunday. And despite the disappointment of winning only seven games, Smith sees a silver lining in her first year.

"I feel comfortable. I want to keep learning. The conversations, the relationships, game planning," she said. "I feel very comfortable and willing to adjust. Next year's going to be a whole new ballgame."

Similarly, the Sparks are also heading into Tuesday's game after suffering a 12-point loss to Phoenix on Sunday.

Parker scored a team-high 23 points, including the first 12 to open the game but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
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