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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.