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De Souza, Thomas lead Dream past Sparks

ATLANTA (AP) - The Los Angeles Sparks bring out the best in Erika de Souza.

De Souza scored a season-high 27 points and grabbed six rebounds as the Atlanta Dream beat the Sparks 92-82 to snap a four-game losing streak on Monday night.

``I love to play against good teams,'' de Souza said through a translator. ``They bring out my best. L.A. is a really good team, so every time I play against them, I'm excited.''

De Souza had 15 points and 18 rebounds in the earlier meeting between the two teams.

Jasmine Thomas scored 19 points, Angel McCoughtry and Le'coe Willingham added 16 points apiece and Alex Bentley had 10 points and 11 assists for the Dream (15-13). Atlanta opened the season 10-1 before losing 12 of its next 16 games.

McCoughtry was held nearly six points below her league-best average coming in (21.8) and had six turnovers, but was glad to see the team's skid come to an end.

``This feels so good,'' she said. ``To get a win creates such a different atmosphere. We have to build off this.''

The Dream shot 52.3 percent from the field, its best game from the floor since June 30, and also connected on 22 of 24 free throws.

``We shot the ball well,'' said Dream coach Fred Williams. ``That makes a difference.''

The Dream are close to securing their fifth straight playoff berth. Atlanta, which leads fifth-place New York by four games with six remaining, hosts fourth-place Indiana on Wednesday and visits the Liberty on Friday night.

Candace Parker had 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to lead the Sparks (21-9). Nneka Ogwumike added 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Lindsey Harding scored 16 points.

Los Angeles had won 10 of its last 11, but couldn't quite recover after falling behind by double digits in the first quarter and trailed 48-32 at halftime.

``In the first quarter and the second quarter, we played horrible,'' Parker said. ``We can't expect to dig ourselves a hole like that and throw a Hail Mary at the end.''

The Sparks put together two runs in the second half, closing the gap in both the third quarter and the fourth quarter. Parker made two free throws to cut what was once a 19-point second-half deficit to 75-70 with 5:50 to play, but inside buckets by de Souza and Willingham halted Los Angeles' momentum and the Dream regained control.

A driving hook shot in the lane by Bentley that just beat the shot clock with 2:20 left helped Atlanta improve to 12-3 at home.

``When we stopped playing inside the paint, we had problems,'' de Souza said. ``That happened in the third quarter and the fourth quarter. When we started playing inside, we got back on track.''

The loss hurts the Sparks' pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, something L.A. has not been able to secure since 2006. The Sparks dropped 1 1/2 games behind first-place Minnesota and play the Lynx on Wednesday.

``They have the best record in the league right now,'' Parker said. ``That in itself, we have to come to the gym ready to play, because if we don't, we will get the same result.''

The Dream shot 22 for 24 from the free-throw line, while the Sparks were 24 for 32.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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