For the most part, the Silver Stars' season this year has been a lot like one of those roller coasters at SeaWorld or Fiesta Texas.
For every exhilarating ride upward, there's been an unsettling dip.
During a season in which they set a franchise record with 12 consecutive victories, the Silver Stars were also given to swings of inconsistency that made them appear vulnerable in the final month of the regular season.
The Silver Stars finished 21-13 and third in the Western Conference, behind defending league champion Minnesota (27-7) and Los Angeles (24-10).
San Antonio, which won four of its last six regular-season games after losing five in a row, plays at Los Angeles in Game 1 of their semifinal series at 9 p.m. Thursday.
"You work for this time of year," Silver Star coach Dan Hughes said. "I think it's important in playoff situations that your team plays to its strengths. Our strength is our ability to defend and play out of it in the transitional phase.
"Our strength is our ability to have balanced scoring, and great ball movement. Our strength is the depth of our bench."
Game 2 tips off at 2 p.m. Sunday at Freeman Coliseum
The Sparks went 16-1 at the Staples Center during the regular season, with the only loss coming to the Silver Stars. But the series opener has been moved to USC's Galen Center because "Batman Live" will take center stage at the Staples Center on Thursday night.
Game 2 is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Freeman Coliseum. The Silver Stars play their home games at the AT&T Center, but there's a concert scheduled there Sunday.
If necessary, a third game would be played at 9:30 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles.
San Antonio went 3-1 against Los Angeles during the regular season. The Sparks snapped the Silver Stars' 12-game winning streak with a 107-77 victory at the Staples Center in the teams' last meeting Aug. 23.
San Antonio rebounded with a 20-point win over Tulsa, but then came a five-game tailspin that bled into the final month of the season.
All three of the Silver Stars' victories against the Sparks came during a two-week span in June.
The Silver Stars won 98-85, in overtime, in San Antonio on June 16, and cruised to a 91-71 victory against the Sparks in Los Angeles on June 24. Four days later, the Silver Stars took a 94-80 win in San Antonio.
Parker, who averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.3 rebounds and a league-best 2.3 blocks in the regular season, scored 25 points in the Sparks' last game in San Antonio.
Hammon: 'This is what we've been working for since April'
"We caught them early in the season," veteran guard Becky Hammon said. "I think they've been playing better the second half of the season. They're a very good rebounding team, so we've got to come in focused and ready for a battle. This is the playoffs.
"Everybody is going to be hyped up and jacked up. But we want to be jacked up and hyped up with a certain type of focus that leads to success."
Parker finished the regular season with a flourish, scoring 71 points and nabbing 33 rebounds in the last three games. Kristi Toliver is another top player for Sparks, averaging a team-high 17.5 points and 4.9 assists.
"They're a very talented team," Hughes said. "They're starting unit counts for about 84 percent of their scoring. They've got five players in double figures. This is a long, athletic team that scores very, very well. They're a real challenge to us from the standpoint of defending them because they have so many good weapons."
The Silver Stars are led by Hammon and forward Sophia Young, who average 14.7 and 16.3 points, respectively.
"We're real excited," Hammon said. "This is what we've been working for since April. It seems so long ago. We feel like we're building off a couple of good games. I thought the last game against Minnesota was awesome. Our girls really played hard. Hopefully, we take that confidence and that focus into the playoffs."
The Silver Stars beat Minnesota 99-84 in their regular-season finale Sunday at the AT&T Center. Still, San Antonio finished September with a 4-5 record and went 5-8 in its last 13 games after winning 12 in a row.