LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Sparks are on a winning streak just in time for star forward Candace Parker's return.
Rookie Jantel Lavender scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds as the Sparks defeated the Phoenix Mercury, 93-90, in overtime on Friday.
Noelle Quinn added a season-high 19 points as Los Angeles erased an early 16-point deficit and won back-to-back games for the first time since July 12-15.
The Sparks (9-13) moved three-and-half games behind Phoenix for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and could get Parker back on Tuesday. Parker, the 2008 MVP, is ``hopeful' to return, a team spokesman said. Parker has been out since June 26 with a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee.
``It will definitely be big,' Lavender said. ``Candace is a major part of this team. With her inside presence, her rebounding and what she contributes to this team, it will definitely help us a little bit more toward getting into playoff position. We just have to continue to grind it out like we did tonight.'
Penny Taylor led Phoenix with 29 points and Diana Taurasi added 21. Temeka Johnson had 12 assists, the most by a WNBA player this season.
But the Mercury (13-10) missed a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference.
Tina Thompson scored the go-ahead basket to start overtime as the Sparks never trailed in the extra session. Lavender scored on a reverse layup and a bank shot in the first 91 seconds of overtime.
``That was huge,' Lavender said. ``It's all about how you start overtime. Overtime is mental and what team wants it the most, and I think we showed that.'
Phoenix pulled to 89-88 on Taylor's three-pointer with a minute remaining and to 91-90 on Taylor's drive. The Mercury inbounded the ball with 4.8 seconds remaining but the ball was kicked out of bounds and the Sparks were awarded possession after a review.
The Mercury entered the game leading the WNBA with 91.4 points per game and 47 percent shooting from the field but were held to 80 points in regulation and 43.4 percent shooting.
L.A. outrebounded Phoenix, 41-29, including 15-9 on the offensive boards. ``L.A. did a great job of slowing down the game,' Taylor said. ``They pounded it into Lavender. She was really dominant inside. I think she did a great job of (going through) the defense and finding open players.'
The Sparks tied it at 80 when Thompson rebounded Ticha Penicheiro's miss and scored underneath with 25.8 seconds remaining in regulation to cap a 15-6 run in the final seven minutes.
Taurasi missed a jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation, and Thompson missed a three-pointer as time expired.
Phoenix led from 6-5 and took leads of 23-7 and 25-9 in the first period. The Sparks pulled to two points down three times in the third and finally tied it at 62 on Lavender's basket inside.
``I think in months past we probably would have laid down and started looking at our hands, looking at the refs,' Sparks coach Joe Bryant said. ``Now, we're digging down and saying, 'Hey, that's in the past. Let's just start playing defense.' We're going to start making some shots as the game went along. And we did.'
The Sparks tied it again 64 before Phoenix went on a 10-1 run capped by Taurasi's back-to-back three pointers with about six minutes remaining.
Taurasi recorded her fifth straight 20-point game, her longest such streak since September of 2008.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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