|Sun focus on Sparks with potential playoff bye at stake|
First they qualified for the playoffs. Then they secured at least one home game.
On Sunday, the Connecticut Sun could secure a first-round bye when they host the Los Angeles Sparks in the regular-season finale at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.
The Sun (20-13) made it eight wins in their last nine games and guaranteed at least a sixth-place finish and a first-round home game with Friday's victory over the Minnesota Lynx.
Connecticut ended the night in fourth place, with no chance to go higher but with the peril of slipping to sixth without a win over the Sparks for the third time in as many tries Sunday.
The top two seeds (Seattle, plus Atlanta or Washington) in the standings get byes to the semifinals. The third and fourth seeds (Washington or Atlanta) automatically advance to the second round, where they will meet the winners of the 5/8 and 6/7 games.
The Sparks can't catch the Sun, but can catch the sixth-place Phoenix Mercury, who host the floundering New York Liberty on Finale Sunday.
A Sun win, though, over the Sparks would lock up the fourth seed for Curt Miller's team.
In short, Phoenix is the 5, the winner of the Sparks-Sun the 4 and the loser the 6.
"Obviously, it goes without talking a lot about. (It was a) huge win for us," Miller said after the Sun won without Chiney Ogwumike (knee). "It secures, at worst case, a home game in the playoffs. A huge win against a true champion, and (I'm) really, really proud. It sets us up for an opportunity to stay home at least for a round."
Jonquel Jones had her third straight big offensive game and also valiantly fought Sylvia Fowles while Ogwumike was on the bench out of uniform after tweaking a knee in practice. She is day-to-day.
Fowles was 8 of 8 from the field for 16 points in the first half and scored nine in the second for the defending WNBA champions.
"(It's) underrated, what she did on Sylvia in the second half," Miller said. "Very underrated. Now, Sylvia missed a couple of shots that she'll normally make, but JJ's length hopefully contributed to that.
"She didn't get discouraged on Sylvia going 8-for-8 by halftime and just dominating us. JJ came back out and kept fighting with her, so I'm really proud of her for that and keeping fighting."
The Sun have posted back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time since 2011-12.
The Sparks (19-14) lost Friday night in Washington on a buzzer-beater.
Los Angeles jumped to a 13-2 lead and got 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists from Candace Parker on Friday.
The Sparks scored only nine points in the fourth quarter of their third loss in the last four games.
The Sparks would need a win Sunday and for the Mercury to win to nail down the four seed. LA would win a three-way tiebreaker with the Sun and Mercury by having the best record against .500-or-better teams.
Before the game in Washington, L.A.'s Nneka Ogwumike, who could face her sister if Chiney Ogwumike returns, said, "The mood of the season right now is that everybody is fighting to the death, really. We're just trying to be as poised as we can be. What's important now is travel and rest, and we'll see what we've got to do to beat Washington."
The Sparks will fly back across the country for what is a guaranteed home playoff game.