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Wednesday, August 15, 2001
The Sting are on a roll

By Nancy Lieberman-Cline
Special to

Charlotte and Cleveland match up really well. Charlotte is as hot as any team in the league right now -- they are absolutely on fire. Although they started off with a slow 1-10 record, the Sting are currently riding a seven-game win streak and have won 17 of their last 21 games. And it appears they have figured out how to play Cleveland.

Coach Anne Donovan has done an absolutely phenomenal job with this team. It's hard to believe Charlotte had the worst record in the WNBA last season. The Sting are loaded with talent. They have veteran presence in Dawn Staley, Andrea Stinson and Tonya Edwards, who they acquired in a terrific trade with Phoenix. Stinson is one of the all-time scorers in the league and Staley one of the all-time players in the league.

With Summer Erb standing 6-foot-6, Clarisse Machanguana at 6-5, and Tammy Sutton-Brown at 6-4, the Sting are big, strong and physical.

Offensively, the Sting is a very patient team. They move the ball side-to-side, make the extra pass, go inside-out and reverse the ball. They give the opposing team's defense a chance to make a mistake - either verbal or physical.

Charlotte has been giving the Cleveland Rockers fits. In the last week of the season Charlotte beat Cleveland, and snapped Miami's five-game win streak in Miami. They've been playing great basketball, and finished the season winning 9 of their last 10 games.

Between Stinson, Staley and Allison Feaster, they have some great outside shooters. Rookie Sutton-Brown has done a nice job on the inside, and Machanguana will come in like a specialist, go to the boards and give a physical presence. Charlotte Smith, known mostly as a defensive player who can jump, has improved each and every year she's been in the league. They really have a lot of diversity within their offense.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has been considered the best team in the league because they've got the best defense in the league. Unfortunately, the last week of the season has been a struggle for the Rockers who currently hold the league record for defense in the history of the WNBA, giving up just 54 points per game. The Rockers gave up an uncharacteristic 76 Tuesday night, which may have raised the percentages, but they still have played incredible defensive basketball all season.

Despite being a bunch of "no-names," they are a balanced team who obviously features their defense. They virtually never get beat and in most cases, you never find them getting beat in a three-on-one or three-on two. They are incredibily deep -- their second team is as good as some teams' first team -- and Dan Hughes is my pick for Coach of the Year.

The Rockers always come at you defensively with numbers. They turn a lot of their offense from their defense, and they're a very good rebounding team who gets their opponents to turn the ball over a lot. They will create offense off their defense from steals.

All-everything Merlakia Jones is the only Rocker player in double digit scoring. She's a great rebounder. When Chasity Melvin went down with her fractured orbital, Ann Warner stepped in and played phenomenal as a starter. All her numbers went up. Helen Darling and Jen Rizzotti are like a two-headed guard -- they're both going to play about 25-26 minutes per game, but they each bring something different to the party. Helen is a flashy penetrator who's picked up her scoring, while Jen is a terrific three-point shooter, hitting 38 percent from the field. She's really improved that area of her game.

It's hard to pick against Cleveland because they have the home court advantage and have played great all year. But it's not about how you've played all year, it's about the team that's hot. The Sting have a very good chance of upsetting Cleveland.

In a three game series, it's imperative to win Game 1 without the home court advantage. If the Sting win Game 1, they'll have confidence. If they lose Game 1, it will put a tremendous amount of pressure on them. During the regular season, the Sting beat Cleveland at home at the end of June, then they lost at Cleveland in mid-July, and then won at Cleveland a week ago.

There's a difference between hoping you can win and knowing you can win. The fact that they've won in Cleveland recently bodes well for the Charlotte Sting.

ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman-Cline is a former WNBA coach and player.