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Friday, August 24, 2001
Sting-Liberty series preview

By Nancy Lieberman-Cline
Special to ESPN.com

This is going to be a physical series. Both are up-tempo teams who score, push and are great defenders. The series will come down to whomever wins the battle of the boards, takes care of the basketball, and stays out of foul trouble. It might sound simplistic but that is what has to happen.

Rebounding is key for both teams -- you can't run if you can't rebound. New York won Game 3 against Miami with incredible offensive rebounding. If Charlotte allows New York to get those additional possessions by not securing the rebound it won't bode well for what they're trying to accomplish.

If Tari Phillips, Vickie Johnson or Crystal Robinson gets in foul trouble, New York doesn't have a lot of scoring coming off the bench. Charlotte is a little deeper. They can come with Summer Erb off the bench and can start either Allison Feaster or Charlotte Smith.

Both teams have been working on their offense. As in any other series, both teams will be working in case they go zone. The zone befuddled Miami and New York for two games until they attacked it in Game 3.

Game 1 is huge. With the format of the playoffs, if Charlotte wins Game 1 at home they've got a good chance of winning the series -- winning the first one could give them the confidence they need to win in the Garden.

The Charlotte Hornets underachieved last year. They were the best team with the worst record. They started this year in that same tailspin until coach Anne Donovan was able to turn them around, get some continuity and get the players to buy into what she was selling.

Dawn Staley is an Olympian and a future hall of famer. Andrea Stinson is one of the top five or six players in the history of the WNBA in scoring. The acquisition of Allison Feaster was terrific because she gives them another legitimate perimeter scorer to stretch the defense. Of all the rookies this year, Tammy Sutton-Brown is the only one still playing.

The knock on Sutton-Brown was that she had a hard time finishing -- but now she's taking hits, she's concentrating, she's finishing with people hanging on her. She's become their go-to player on the inside.

At 6-foot-6, Summer Erb will knock you through the wall. Clarisse Machanguana is just a competitor like you've never seen, she comes in and plays her role. They're big and they're strong. Coming out of college everybody thought Charlotte Smith was a good athlete who could dunk the ball. I have a lot of admiration for the way she has worked on her offensive game. She's a tough matchup because she's physical.

The Sting have a lot of firepower and size on the perimeter with Smith, Stinson and Feaster. They can slash, create their own shots and shoot the three -- especially Fester and Stinson.

With the exception of the Sparks, Charlotte is playing the best basketball of anybody in the league. They're on a roll with a 19-5 record after a 1-10 start. They were 2-1 against New York this year, playing good defense, winning both at home and on the road and in Cleveland. They're not afraid of challenges.

But don't count New York out. They've been to three of four championship series and are 5-0 when facing elimination at Madison Square Garden. They know how to play at the next level. The Liberty are tough and mentally savvy. If I were going to war, I'd make sure to get the cell numbers of Phillips, Johnson, Robinson, Theresa Weatherspoon and Sue Wicks, because they'll leave it all right there in the trenches with you.

On the perimeter Robinson and Johnson are excellent defenders but they're going to have to come with the offense like they did in the last series against Miami. One matchup problem for New York is who Becky Hammon will guard. There's a lot of defensive matchup problems from the Miami series that can be the same in the Charlotte series.

Weatherspoon vs. Dawn Staley matches up two savvy veterans. Witherspoon's not going to score as much as Staley but Liberty coach Richie Adubado wants her to be more active. Staley knows where to get the ball, when to get it, when to penetrate and when to hit her shot. She's a great foul shooter -- if you do chose to foul her. Hammon and Wicks are the X factors in the series because New York is only seven deep. Adubado is loading up on his starters.

It's tough to pick a winner for this series. A lot will depend on the officiating and what happens as the game unfolds.

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