LOS ANGELES – The Lynx appeared to be coasting to the No. 1 seed in the WNBA only three weeks ago.
Now, after an embarrassing 78-67 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, it’s a two-team race for the league’s best record and the carrot that goes with it — home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
“Our defense was atrocious the first half,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “And our guard play [was] atrocious.”
With the victory before an announced crowd of 19,282, Los Angeles (24-8) closed within one-half game of the Lynx (24-7) and, if the two teams tie, the Sparks have the tiebreaker by taking the season series 2-1.
The Sparks have two games left, both at home, the Lynx three and still control their fate. If Minnesota wins out, they would finish ahead of L.A. One more Lynx loss, though — and Minnesota is 5-5 since Aug. 6 — and the Sparks catch them if they win out.
“We control our own destiny, we’re in control here,” Lynx center Sylvia Fowles said. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for us the way we planned tonight.”
The Lynx, who had split with the Sparks at Xcel Energy Center, self-destructed Sunday in their first visit to Staples Center this season. They committed 18 turnovers, losing the ball 11 times on steals. Those ballhandling issues led to Los Angeles outscoring the Lynx 24-10 on points off turnovers and 17-4 on fast-break points.
Center Candace Parker led Los Angeles with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Guards Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims were also a problem for the Lynx, combining for 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“When Candace really plays aggressive, she can score and really facilitate,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said. “She did both of those along with rebounding. … When she’s like that we are really, really good.”
Fowles had 17 points and 14 rebounds but had little help. Maya Moore was held to 10 points to go along with two rebounds, two assists, two fouls and two turnovers.
Rebekkah Brunson, who missed the past four games because of a left ankle injury, returned with seven points, six rebounds — and, tying for the team-high, four turnovers in just over 19 minutes.
Point guard Lindsay Whalen remained out because of a broken bone in her left hand. The Lynx’s slide began with her injury. Renee Montgomery, her replacement, had seven points and three assists but four turnovers, too.
The Lynx took a 6-0 lead at the start, but the Sparks scored 22 of the next 29 points, including 10 by Parker.
Gray scored six of her 16 points during a 13-2 run that put Los Angeles up 46-32 at the half. The Lynx trailed by double figures the rest of the way.
“We started off fine and then as we went on throughout the first and second, we got away from what was working,” Fowles said.
Los Angeles 78, LYNX 67
Wednesday: at Indiana, 6 p.m.