Sparks earn fifth straight trip to West finals

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The two-time WNBA champion Sparks needed
nearly 40 minutes from each of their starters to hold off the
Minnesota Lynx.

Lisa Leslie scored 22 points as Los Angeles beat Minnesota 74-64
Monday night and advanced to the Western Conference finals for the
fifth consecutive year.

The Sparks won the first-round series 2-1 and will play either
second-seeded Houston or No. 3 Sacramento. That series is tied 1-1
and Game 3 is Tuesday night.

"Minnesota made us work for everything," Los Angeles coach
Michael Cooper said. "This league is getting harder and harder to
play because of parity."

Tamecka Dixon added 14 points, DeLisha Milton and Nikki Teasley
each had 13 and Mwadi Mabika had 12 as all five Sparks starters
scored in double figures for the second consecutive game.

Dixon and Mabika played the entire 40 minutes; Milton and
Teasley logged 39 minutes each and Leslie played 38 minutes.

"To have that experience out on the court is always a
positive," Dixon said. "The only thing Minnesota did lack was

Milton's hot shooting carried over from Saturday night, when she
had 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Sparks avoided elimination by
tying the series. They blew a 21-point lead and lost the opening
game at Minnesota, which is 2-16 all-time against Los Angeles.

"This was one of the most physical playoff series that we've
had in two years," Dixon said. "The last three minutes of the
game, when it got really, really crazy, he (Cooper) told us to
protect ourselves. At that point, we felt we had the game won and
we definitely didn't want to go into round two with any injuries."

Tamika Williams led the Lynx with 17 points and nine rebounds --
the only Minnesota player to score in double figures. She blossomed
in the playoffs, doubling her regular-season scoring average to 16
points and playing nearly 40 minutes in each game.

"Tamika Williams had a great series, kind of a coming out
party," Dixon said. "She's going to be a pretty good player in
this league."

Katie Smith had 11 points for the Lynx, who finished 18-17 after
making the playoffs for the first time in their five-year

Minnesota had just four leads in the first two games, and never
led in Game 3 when they shot 36 percent.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team," Minnesota coach Suzie
McConnell Serio said. "They fought their hearts out. It'll make us
hungrier going into next season."

They trailed by 15 points early in the second half, then got
within nine points with 1:42 remaining. But Teresa Edwards missed a
14-footer after committing two costly turnovers moments earlier.

"Either we didn't make a shot or they went down and
converted," Smith said. "They had a nice little cushion to play
with. Even if we scored two buckets in a row and they missed, they
still had that nice little six-, seven-point cushion. We fought as
hard as we could, but we needed some more breaks."

Smith's three-point play drew Minnesota to 58-50, but Svetlana
Abrosimova had the ball ripped away by Mabika, and Teasley hit a
3-pointer for the Sparks.

Kristi Harrower hit a 3-pointer as Minnesota closed within seven
points with 6:08 to play. Mabika scored on a layin of Dixon's miss
and Leslie stole the ball and scored at the other end for a 66-55

Los Angeles shot 50 percent and outscored Minnesota 48-32 in the

The Sparks improved to 3-2 in elimination games since first
making the playoffs in 1999.