PHOENIX — Natasha Howard scored 11 of her 22 points in the first quarter and the Seattle Storm got off to a strong start en route to an 82-70 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday night in a battle for WNBA playoff positioning.

Seattle (17-15) moved into a tie with the Minnesota Lynx for the sixth seed and holds the tiebreaker.

The Mercury (15-17) will finish eighth.

When the playoffs open next week, the fifth and sixth seeds have home games while the seventh and eighth seeds are on the road in the single-elimination first round.

The Storm shot 58% in the first quarter to 39% for the Mercury and steadily pulled away.

It was 50-35 in favor of the Storm at halftime and the margin was 20 entering the fourth quarter.

Howard added a game-high 12 rebounds.

Storm forward Alysha Clark scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

Jewell Loyd had 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting for the Storm and backcourt mate Jordin Canada contributed 10 points and 10 assists.

The Storm was 9 of 23 (39.1%) from 3-point range, compared with 4 of 15 (26.7%) for Phoenix. 

Clark made 3 of 5 3-point attempts.

Brittney Griner scored 22 points for Phoenix, which outscored the Storm 18-10 in the final quarter of a game witnessed by 8,724 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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