LOS ANGELES (AP) - Candace Parker is doing her best to keep the Los Angeles Sparks in the thick of the postseason race.
Parker scored a season-high 27 points and the Sparks beat Seattle 68-62 on Tuesday night, denying the Storm a chance to clinch a playoff berth.
The win helped the Sparks (13-17) remain 1 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the final playoff spot in the West with less than two weeks left in the regular season.
``If we take care of business,' Parker said, ``it'll be hard for us not to make it.'
Parker, playing in her seventh game since missing 15 with a knee injury, scored 10 of her team's 17 points in the fourth quarter, including hitting three free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal it.
``She is our go-to person. That's what we expect from her,' said Sparks forward Tina Thompson, who had 12 points. ``We are going to go to her so she can make those plays.'
Sue Bird had 15 points for the Storm (17-13), who snapped a four-game winning streak and remained on the cusp of the postseason.
Seattle is looking to extend its playoff run to eight consecutive years , which would match Los Angeles (1999-2006) for the league's longest streak.
The defending WNBA champions had surged up the standings with their recent run, but fell a half-game behind second-place Phoenix in the race to host a first-round series. The Storm and Mercury play each other Sept. 9 in a game that figures to have seeding implications on the line.
``We've still got four games left,' Bird said. ``We have a shot at second place, which would give us home-court advantage.'
Bird's free throws with 1.6 seconds to go gave the Storm a 65-63 win over the Sparks on Sunday. Seattle was unable to complete the home-and-home sweep, shooting just 37 percent in the rematch.
After the Sparks took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, Ebony Hoffman's jumper extended it to 65-57 with 2:12 remaining. Bird hit a 3-pointer, but the Storm failed to make it a one-possession game when Lauren Jackson missed a 3-pointer and Swin Cash came up empty on a jumper.
Parker was intentionally fouled and hit one of two free throws for a 66-60 lead with 23.9 seconds to go. Following a layup by Le'coe Willingham, Parker drew another foul and added two more free throws.
``To play as hard as we did and to have it come down to the final seconds is tough,' said Hoffman, who had 11 points. ``Tonight, we just came out with a fire.'
Seattle lost its fourth straight on the road despite winning the rebounding battle, 36-21 - including 15 of the offensive end. Turnovers and poor shooting, however, did them in.
Despite having as many turnovers in the first quarter (8) as they did the entire game on Sunday, the Storm trailed by two points after the first quarter. But Seattle went cold offensively and was held scoreless for nearly 3 minutes to open the second.
After Jackson was called for a technical foul midway through the second quarter for arguing a non-call, Parker's 3-pointer gave the Sparks their largest lead, 30-20. The Storm made just 3 of 12 shots in the quarter and trailed 32-24 at halftime.
The Sparks travel to Phoenix on Saturday before finishing the season with three home games, one against San Antonio.
``If we want to make a push to be in the playoffs,' Thompson said, ``we have to win these games.'
The Associated Press News Service
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