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Seattle Storm Fall To Third Place After 68-62 Loss To L.A. Sparks

After needing game-winning free throws from Sue Bird to beat the Los Angeles Sparks at KeyArena on Sunday night at KeyArena, the Seattle Storm travel south for a rematch against their Western Conference rival at Staples Center. While the Sparks need a win just to keep pace in the playoff race, the Storm have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight. The game will be televised at 7:30 p.m. PST on KONG 6/16 locally and broadcast online at WNBA LiveAccess. Click here for more on the Western Conference playoff race. For more on the Storm, visit our Seattle Storm section. For more on the WNBA in general, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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2011 WNBA Playoff Race: Candace Parker's Season-High 27 Points Keep Seattle Storm From Clinching Playoff Berth

With the Los Angeles Sparks needing every game they can get in their fight to make the playoffs, star forward Candace Parker turned in yet another strong performance in a 68-62 win over the Seattle Storm at Staples Center last night.

Parker dropped a season-high 27 points on the Storm (17-13) including 3-for-5 3-point shooting and seven rebounds to keep the Sparks (13-17) within 1.5 games of the fourth place San Antonio Silver Stars (14-15). The win also kept both the Storm and Phoenix Mercury (17-12) from clinching a playoff spot. The magic number for the Storm remains at one, with either a win or Sparks loss clinching their playoff spot.

The combination of the Storm's loss and the Mercury's 96-74 win in Tulsa also caused the two to swap spots in the Western Conference standings, with the Storm falling to third place. The battle for second place is particularly important as the two teams figure to matchup in the first round of the playoffs and are jockeying for home court advantage; given how well the Storm have played at KeyArena and particularly how well they've played the Mercury there, finishing the regular season in second would increase their chances of advancing to their second consecutive Western Conference Finals series and defending their title.

The Storm have a good shot at clinching their playoff berth when they travel to Oklahoma to play the 3-26 Tulsa Shock on Friday, but this weekend's back-to-back with the Shock and Silver Stars could go a long way to proving just how well prepared the Storm are to make another playoff run.

As for the Sparks, they definitely needed a win last night more than Storm just to stay in the playoff hunt with only four games left. After playing the Mercury in Phoenix, they get a chance to gain a game on the Silver Stars head-to-head at home before finishing the season with two currently sub-.500 teams. The Silver Stars will have a chance to win the regular season series in that game, which would give them a tiebreaker that could end up being significant between these two teams.

But if Parker finishes the season playing as well as she has against the Storm in the past two games and the Sparks continue showing a renewed commitment to defense after some poor efforts on that end of the ball, they'll be tough to eliminate from playoff contention.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Los Angeles Sparks Final Score: Playoff Berth Will Have To Wait After 68-62 Loss

The Seattle Storm managed to keep pace with the Los Angeles Sparks on the scoreboard during a sluggish second half, but playing even simply wasn't enough to overcome a poor first half effort in a 68-62 loss at Staples Center tonight.

Despite the sub-par performance, the Storm actually within five points with a minute left but couldn't get their shots to fall against an aggressive Sparks defense that was focused and did an excellent job of rotating as the Storm tried to execute their offense.

The final minute of denying the Storm the scoring opportunities they wanted was a fitting end to the loss that ends the Storm's season-high winning streak at four games. The Sparks hardly played an outstanding game, but their defense was better - and more consistent - than usual as they held the Storm to 37.9 percent shooting for the game.

But on the other end, the Storm had no answer for Sparks star Candace Parker who had a game-high 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting and tied for a team-high seven rebounds. It was pretty much the same type of performance that Parker put on in the fourth quarter at KeyArena on Sunday but just spread out over the course of an entire game instead of just half a quarter. After beating the Storm with depth in their first meeting at Staples Center, the Sparks are apparently tightening their rotation and only used seven players tonight with Ebony Hoffman coming off the bench to score 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

For the Storm, the game was reminiscent of the way they played in the first half of the season with Sue Bird carrying the majority of the load with a team-high 15 points, including 4-for-5 3-point shooting, as well as four rebounds and four assists. Lauren Jackson complemented Bird with 14 points, but shot 3-for-13.

While the loss prevented the Storm from clinching a playoff spot, it also reflects the difference in urgency between the two teams - while the Storm are still comfortably within playoff range, the Sparks needed this win just to stay within striking distance of the fourth place San Antonio Silver Stars, who beat the Connecticut Sun at home tonight.

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