|Sparks fly in to New York to face Liberty after big win|
Whatever coach Brian Agler said at halftime during the Los Angeles Sparks' two most recent wins seems to have done the trick.
In wins over New York and Minnesota, Los Angeles outscored its opponents 25-11 and 21-8, respectively, in the third quarters.
In those games, which were sandwiched around a loss in Dallas, defense was the key.
"We played without question our best defensive quarter in the third quarter. It helped our offense as well," Agler said after the Aug. 3 win over the Liberty, according to the website Swish Appeal. "We were able to get some shots, and our execution was better.
"I told them for us to beat good teams, win a series in a playoff or even be in the position to win a championship we cannot play how we did in the second quarter at either end."
Agler's team pays a return visit to New York on Sunday to take on the Liberty at Madison Square Garden.
Even more impressive was the Sparks' Friday win at Minnesota.
Los Angeles (19-7) held the WNBA's top offense to 4-of-18 shooting from the field to break open a game that was tied at halftime.
"That's what we're working towards -- to get our defense as sound as possible going into the playoffs, because you saw what happened in the third quarter, and when we're able to get stops and get out in the secondary, that's when we're dangerous," Sparks center Candace Parker told the website.
Parker had 19 points and 10 rebounds in Los Angeles' 70-64 win, which came during an off game for leading scorer Nneka Ogwumike.
Ogwumike scored just three points on 1-of-7 shooting from the floor, but she made a key basket late in the fourth quarter that gave her 3,000 career points.
New York (14-12) enters Sunday's game after two straight wins.
On Friday, the Liberty saw a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead against Atlanta cut to one before prevailing 83-77.
New York guard Shavonte Zellous had a game-high 20 points and made a key steal late to quell the Dream rally.
"We just had to clamp down on defense," Zellous said. "We allowed Atlanta to get back in the game. (Then) it was all about getting a defensive stop and not letting Atlanta score. We really locked down and were focused at that point, and I was able to get the steal."
The Liberty play at Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut on Friday.
The Sparks, who are in the middle of a five-game road trip, will be in Washington on Wednesday and Chicago on Friday.