INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ Lisa Leslie scored 15 of her 23 points in the first half as the Los Angeles Sparks overcame a slow start to defeat defending champion Houston 75-60 Thursday night in the opener of the best-of-3 WNBA Western Conference finals.

DeLisha Milton added 16 points and La'Keshia Frett had 11 for Los Angeles.

Sheryl Swoopes had 17 points, Tina Thompson added 13 before fouling out and Cynthia Cooper contributed 12 for Houston, which has won both WNBA championships. The second and, if necessary, third games would be played at Houston, where the Comets were 15-1 this season.

The Western Conference winner faces the winner of the Eastern Conference series between New York and Charlotte in the best-of-3 title series.

Playing before a Forum crowd of 10,099, the Sparks led 33-29 at halftime. After an exchange of baskets to start the second half, Los Angeles scored nine consecutive points to lead 44-31.

Cooper ended the streak with a basket, but Los Angeles went on a 6-0 run for a 50-33 advantage with 14:48 left.

Thompson and Janeth Arcain hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull Houston to 11 points with 11:41 remaining. A 9-2 run helped cut the lead to 61-54 with 5:05 to play, but Los Angeles scored the next six points and led by at least 12 the rest of the game.

Los Angeles, which missed its first seven shots and trailed 8-0, took its first lead 24-23 with 7:18 left in the half.

It was the third game and second loss for Houston since Aug. 19, when Kim Perrot, the starting point guard on its two championship teams, died of cancer at age 32.

The series matches teams with the WNBA's best regular-season records. Houston (26-6) and Los Angeles (20-12) split four regular-season games, each winning twice at home.