Jackson passes 30-point mark again in Storm's victory

SEATTLE -- Sure, closing the regular season with a third straight win to finish at .500 was important for Lauren Jackson and the Seattle Storm.

More rewarding -- getting an extra day of rest before starting the playoffs.

"I'm so excited. I'm going to be sleeping," Jackson said.

Jackson capped a likely MVP season with 32 points and 15 rebounds, and the Storm pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 97-77 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday night.

Seattle will open the playoffs next Friday night at home against top-seeded Phoenix. Seattle coach Anne Donovan is giving the players the weekend off before beginning preparations for the Mercury on Monday.

"Everyone is going to enjoy these next two days off," Seattle's Sue Bird said.

Jackson, the WNBA leader in scoring and rebounding, topped the 30-point mark for the ninth time this season to set a league record, and Seattle finished off the regular season at 17-17.

It's been an emotional season for the Aussie forward, who has carried her inconsistent team while also managing personal struggles. Jackson returned to the team just a week ago after flying to Australia to visit her ailing 91-year-old grandmother, who died last Friday following a stroke.

"It's been a really, really hard season, I'm not going to lie," Jackson said. "But it's a new season now. It's time to start fresh."

Iziane Castro Marques added 24 points and Bird scored 14 points and had eight assists for Seattle, who won all four games against Los Angeles this season.

The victory meant nothing to Seattle's playoff positioning, other than giving the Storm a fourth straight home win.

But the game held a little more meaning for fans of the franchise, who are unsure if the Storm will be in Seattle for the 2008 season.

Clay Bennett, the owner of the Storm and NBA's SuperSonics, has threatened to move the franchises if a new arena isn't built in the Seattle area. He has given an Oct. 31 deadline for an arena plan to be developed or he will file for relocation with the NBA. There's been no definitive answer on the Storm's future, but Bennett has said he doesn't intend to split the franchises.

Seattle gets one more home game against Phoenix. The Mercury clinched the top seed in the conference when San Antonio lost to Indiana earlier on Friday night, then Phoenix beat Sacramento later Friday.

Sidney Spencer led Los Angeles with a career-high 25 and Marta Fernandez added 16. The loss assured the Sparks (10-23) of the worst season in franchise history. Los Angeles was 12-18 in 1998, the last year it failed to make the playoffs. The Sparks close the season on Sunday against Houston.

"I thought we did a great job in the first half," Spencer said. "In the second half we had a point in the game where we had consecutive errors that they really capitalized on."

Seattle pulled away in the second half behind strong performances by Bird and Jackson.

Bird, averaging a career low 10.3 points this season, was aggressive with her shot in the third quarter, making five of eight attempts in the quarter for 12 points. She and Jackson combined for 23 of Seattle's 30 points in the quarter.

Seattle then pulled away early in the fourth, outscoring the Sparks 18-4 to start the quarter. Jackson scored seven points during the stretch, and finished 15-for-16 at the free-throw line. She checked out with 3:24 left to chants of "M-V-P!"

Jackson was league MVP in 2003.

"The second half is exactly what we needed," Donovan said. "The first half it seemed like we were just going through the motions and the second half ... we really got after it at both ends."