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SPARKS UPDATE: SPARKS EYE STOPPING COMET RUN.

Byline: Pamela Lewis Staff Writer

It may be called the Western Conference Finals, but it is widely believed the matchup between the Sparks and the three-time defending champion Houston Comets is the championship series.

The Sparks and Comets finished the regular season with the best records in the 32-game season, losing a combined nine games - fewer than any single team. The two teams were 21-1 - New York beat Houston - against Eastern Conference teams.

``I said it at the beginning of the year and I still believe it now, Houston is the team to beat,'' said Sacramento Monarchs coach Sonny Allen after his team was eliminated by the Comets 75-70 on Monday night.

The Comets have run this league from the beginning, and the only team that appears ready to unseat them is the Sparks, who are 3-0 against Houston this season.

``To me, this is like a preview of the finals,'' Houston guard Janeth Arcain said. ``I think whoever loses or wins Thursday will be the champs of the WNBA. Because both teams, Houston and L.A., have played so good all season, I think both teams could be the champions.''

Everyone knew that the road to the championship would go through Houston. The dynamics of the team has changed somewhat with Sheryl Swoopes raising her game to take the attention away from Cynthia Cooper. But that's nothing new. This team has dealt with negative energy in the locker between the two since the league's inception and it hasn't interfered with the Comets winning three consecutive WNBA titles. Cooper added to the animosity when she announced her retirement at midseason and failed to tell the coaches or her teammates beforehand.

The Sparks, who swept Phoenix in the first round, have the edge with a bench that Houston lacks. Not that the Comets have needed one, at least until now.

Although the Sparks have the home-court advantage in this best-of-three series, Game 1 on Thursday is in Houston.

``It's definitely the biggest game of both of our seasons thus far,'' Sparks center Lisa Leslie said. ``It's very important who wins the first game, I think. Obviously we're looking to steal one, and they're looking to get a win at home since they're going to be back here on the road for two games. I think it's going to be a great game, very intense. We're looking forward to it.''

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Photo: Delisha Milton and the Sparks are 3-0 against the defending champion Houston Comets.

Edna Trunnell-Simpson/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 16, 2000
Words:419
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