LOS ANGELES – Not having Breanna Stewart in the lineup is tough enough for the Seattle Storm.
The Los Angeles Sparks made it even tougher with their defense.
L.A. limited the Storm to season-lows in points and field goals on Sunday night, building an 11-point lead by the end of the first quarter and rolling to an 81-53 victory inside the Staples Center.
Seattle was coming off a 105-71 rout of the Washington Mystics last Tuesday in Everett, its highest point output of the season. But late in the third quarter of that game, Stewart came off the court with a foot injury, and the decision ultimately was made to keep her out of the final two regular-season contests with the hope of having her ready to go for the playoffs.
Sunday’s outcome means those playoffs will start with a knockout game for the Storm (20-11). They currently sit in the No. 4 spot in the overall standings, half a game behind No. 3 Minnesota (20-10). They are half a game ahead of No. 5 Phoenix (19-11), and wrap up the regular season on Friday at home against the Mercury.
The Nos. 3 and 4 seeds avoid the first-round knockout games. They will await the winners of the No. 5-vs.-No. 8 and No. 6-vs.-No. 7 match-ups for a second-round knockout contest and a spot in the semifinals.
Epiphanny Prince came off the bench to lead Seattle with 12 points on Sunday, and was the only Storm player to reach double figures. The highest-scoring starters were Stephanie Talbot (who took Stewart’s place in the lineup) and Katie Lou Samuelson with seven points apiece.
Seattle’s only lead of the night was 2-0 on the opening basket by Jewell Loyd. From a 4-4 tie, Los Angeles (11-19) went on an 18-5 scoring run to take command at 22-9.
After that, the closest it got was 24-13 on Prince’s 3-pointer with four seconds left in the first quarter. The Sparks, looking to keep themselves in a three-team chase for the eighth and final playoff spot, rang up the first six points of the second quarter to make it 30-13
The Storm hit just 18 of their 56 shots (32.1 percent), all season lows. That included 6 of 27 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
Los Angeles took just six more shots, but made 12 more, hitting 30 of 62 (48.4 percent). It had four players finish in double figures, led by the 19 points of Te’a Cooper off the bench.
Seattle still finished with a 10-6 road record, the third time in franchise history with double-digit victories away from home.
The Storm and Phoenix tip off the regular-season finale on Friday at 7:00 p.m. inside Angel Of The Winds Arena (JOEtv).