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Michael Cooper expects to play Sparks' Candace Parker at forward in tonight's game against Phoenix

July 5, 2009 |  6:20 pm

Candace_240 Sparks forward Candace Parker will likely play off the bench at either small or power forward in tonight's game at Staples Center against the Phoenix Mercury, according to Coach Michael Cooper. But he stressed he'll keep his options open, based on her comfort level and how the game unfolds.

"We’re going to put her wherever we think she fits," Cooper said of Parker, who is making her debut after her maternity leave kept her out of training camp and the season's first eight games. "That’s the type of player she is and the type of team we have this year."

Cooper said that the starting lineup would include DeLisha Milton-Jones (center), Tina Thompson (power forward), Marie Ferdinand-Harris(small forward), Betty Lennox (shooting guard) and Kristi Harrower (point guard). That was the same starting lineup last Sunday in the Sparks' last game -- an 82-55 victory over the Seattle Storm.

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who was cited for drunk driving Thursday night, was warming up and will not face any disciplinary action from the league until the legal process finishes its course.

Phoenix (7-4) boasts the league's top offense (90.6 points per game), while the Sparks (3-5) rank third in team defense, allowing 69.88 points per game. Even though Parker is playing in her first competitive game in 10 months and 53 days after giving birth to her daughter, Lailaa, Parker said she plans on trying to keep up with the fast tempo the Mercury may try to impose.

"I’m not going to pace myself," said Parker, who is married to Shelden Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves."Against this team, if you pace yourself you’ll be out of the game. I’m just trying to get out there and play and see. When he calls my name to come out, I’ll come out."

--Mark Medina

Photo: Candace Parker, right, and Nicole Ohlde battle for a rebound during the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Los Angeles on July 5, 2009. The Mercury won the game 104-89. Photo credit: Lori Shepler / Associated Press.