Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:29 AM
LOS ANGELES (AP) ¿ It took a spell on the bench for Lisa Leslie to realize why the Sparks were still trailing early in the third quarter.
"I was just like, 'These girls, they can't stop us inside,'" she said. "I got a chance to really look and see where those open spots were and I was able to get back in. They weren't doing a very good job of boxing out, so I knew just keep crashing the boards." Leslie had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Candace Parker scored 21 points and Los Angeles pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Chicago Sky 75-63 Tuesday night for its sixth consecutive victory.
DeLisha Milton-Jones added 12 points and Parker grabbed eight rebounds, just missing her WNBA-leading 10th double-double. Leslie had a season-high three blocked shots.
"It's better to peak than never peak at all," Parker said. "We're hitting our stride right now. We just have to continue to protect our home court and play hard." Shyra Ely scored 16 points and Candice Dupree added 13 points for Chicago, which lost its third in a row and fourth in six games. Starting center Sylvia Fowles missed her third straight game with a sprained left ankle.
The Sparks improved to 9-3 this month, including 6-3 at home, as they continue their push for home-court advantage in the playoffs. They have seven games remaining, including five at Staples Center, with first-place Phoenix in town on Thursday.
"Our destiny is in our hands," Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "I figure it'll take us 18 wins to get into the playoffs and we're four short from there." The Sparks remain third in the Western Conference standings, two games behind second-place Seattle, which beat Washington on Tuesday night.
"This is LA, it's all about winning or nothing," Leslie said. "We know that we want to win a championship ultimately." Los Angeles opened the fourth on a 7-0 run, capped by Noelle Quinn's 3-pointer, to extend its lead to 61-52. The Sky got within four on a layup by Mistie Bass before the Sparks took over.
They reeled off eight in a row, helped by Parker's steal that set up a jumper ¿ her third consecutive basket ¿ and took a 71-59 lead with 3:41 remaining and Leslie on the bench.
"One of the big four may end up sitting on the bench at some point in time and it just happened to be Smooth," Cooper said. "She got some rest that she needed because we got a tough game against Phoenix coming up and we're probably going to need her more than the minutes she played tonight." Chicago struggled with missed shots down the stretch after finding success early by double- and triple-teaming the much taller Sparks.
"We did a fantastic job of keeping them off-balance. They played a big lineup the entire game, which is something they don't normally do," Sky coach Steve Key said. "When you miss the wide-open shot and then you don't get back on defense and they get an easy basket, it's pretty tough. We made one or two key mistakes where we chased the ball out and they got a layup and that kind of hurts you." The Sparks ran off 11 consecutive points early in the third, including five by Parker and four from Leslie, to erase a nine-point deficit and take their first lead since the start of the game, 41-39. They shot 71 percent from the floor and dominated the paint, 16-8.
"Our energy and effort was there, but Parker and Lisa played great games," Dupree said. "It's tough when our tallest player is 6-foot-3 and their tallest players are 6-5 and 6-6." The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter, with neither going up by more than three, before Tina Thompson made two free throws to give the Sparks a 54-52 lead going into the fourth.
"We did a great job of just pushing tempo," Parker said. "We were just taking better shots, taking advantage of mismatches and taking the ball inside. We handled the double-team a lot better in the second half." The Sparks wore pink uniforms to promote breast health awareness night.