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Taurasi, Mercury stay hot on heels of last playoff spot

PHOENIX (AP) -- Diana Taurasi was unaware she is on the verge of a
WNBA scoring record.

Taurasi had 34 points, moving within two points of the league's
single-season record, and added seven assists to lead the Phoenix
Mercury to a 96-80 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday
night.

"I had no clue," Taurasi said. "No one tells me these things.
That's funny because I kept hearing someone in the crowd go, 'two
points' and I was like, we're up by 22, two points for what?"

Cappie Pondexter had 17 points and six assists for the Mercury
(14-16), who have won three straight since losing four in a row.
Phoenix (14-16) remained 2½ games behind fourth-place Seattle for
the final postseason berth in the Western Conference with four
games to play.

"We're struggling to stay alive for the playoffs," Mercury
coach Paul Westhead said. "So we know we must win and we figured
out like everybody else that we need to win every game."

Temeka Johnson had 17 points and five assists, and Murriel Page
scored 16 points for Los Angeles (23-9), which lost its third
straight after winning 10 of 11.

"They're probably the favorites to win it all, I would say,"
Taurasi said of Sparks. "So today was a good win for us. Not only
that, it keeps us alive. We are not going to roll over for
anyone."

Mercury center Kristen Rasmussen limited the Sparks' Lisa
Leslie, averaging 20.3 points per game, to just eight on 3-for-10
shooting.

"Coach came in and said me it was my job to keep the ball away
from her, get it out of her hands, block her out," Rasmussen said.
"Do whatever it took to try and take her out of the game."

Leslie played just 29 minutes, two in the fourth quarter when
the game was not in doubt.

"Razz did a terrific man-to-man job, but we were doubling the
moment that Leslie got the ball," Westhead said. "So she was
getting double team. We learned from some of our mistakes. We did
that the first time we played and Lisa Leslie dumped that ball off
to people going down the lane for open shots. Well, nobody got any
of them today."

The Mercury used a pair of 10-0 runs to pull away from the
West's top team. The second run put Phoenix ahead 58-41 with 6:12
left in the third quarter, and the Mercury led by as much as 23 in
the final period.

"They also played with a different energy," Los Angeles coach
Joe Bryant said. "Because they know the importance."

Katie Smith holds the league record with 739 points in 32 games
for Minnesota in 2001.

The Mercury ran off 10 straight points in the second quarter to
take a 38-26 lead with 3:39 left.

Phoenix had held Los Angeles to 7-for-26 shooting and Leslie to
three points, but the Sparks made 10-of-11 free throws to stay
close. Leslie scored back-to-back baskets in the final 1:20 of the
half to cut the lead, and Johnson's layup with 2.6 seconds left got
Los Angeles to within 44-37 at the break.

"We didnt execute well on defense either," Johnson said.
"They had us back on our heels."

Los Angeles forward Chamique Holdsclaw, averaging 12.5 points as
a reserve, missed a second game with plantar fasciitis in her left
foot.

Los Angeles had beaten Phoenix by an average of 8.0 points in
the first three meetings this season.