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2011 WNBA Playoff Race: Phoenix Mercury Clinch Playoff Berth, Seattle Storm Stay In Second

With their 70-60 win in San Antonio tonight, the Seattle Storm (19-13) remained in second place in the Western Conference even after the third place Phoenix Mercury (18-13) clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Storm now have nearly a week off with a half-game lead over the Mercury for second place and home court advantage in the likely first round meeting. The Storm will resume play next week with home games against the Mercury and their regular season finale on September 11 against Gonzaga alum Courtney Vandersloot and the Chicago Sky.

The Mercury clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in the last five years, including title runs in 2007 and 2009 and a trip to the Western Conference Finals against the Storm last season.

For both the Mercury and Storm, their wins tonight make Friday's meeting even more important as the two teams fight for who will have home court advantage in their increasingly likely first round meeting.

"You have to really focus on that (game)," Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said about Friday's game against the Storm. "They've been playing really well as of late. We fly out Friday morning and play Friday night so its not the best scenario but we'll go."

But for the fourth place Silver Stars (15-16) and Sparks (13-18) things are still unclear; with both teams losing tonight, the Silver Stars remain two games ahead of the Sparks.

The Sparks' schedule does still give them a shot to close the gap: with three home games remaining in their regular season, the Sparks get a chance to gain a game against the Silver Stars directly in a head-to-head meeting on Tuesday and follow that with a rematch against the 3-27 Tulsa Shock who ended their 20-game losing streak in L.A. on August 26.

But it won't exactly be easy for the Sparks.

"Win - we can't lose," said Sparks forward Candace Parker when asked what it would take to make the playoffs. "We have to bank on San Antonio losing another one. For us we just have to take care of our business and take care of San Antonio starting on Tuesday. We just need to win out and see what happens."

Even if the Silver Stars lose to the Sparks on Tuesday, they'll still have just as good an opportunity to get in, despite an extended losing streak after the All-Star break: they'll have a home game against the 6-25 Washington Mystics followed by their regular season finale in Tulsa.

Nevertheless, filling that fourth and final playoff spot is about the Sparks as much as whatever the Silver Stars do: if they show up and play defense, they could easily win out and at least put pressure on the Silver Stars. But if they have the type of defensive lapses they had at home against the Shock, it's hard to imagine them making it to the postseason.

"The next three games, we have San Antonio, which is head-to-head so that is important," said Sparks coach Joe Bryant. "After that we have Tulsa and Chicago and San Antonio has Tulsa and Washington. No telling what is going to happen. We have to play it out. That’s what I told the women. Make sure to keep our heads up high.

"It’s not over until it’s over."