All-Star Merlakia Jones led Cleveland in scoring in 2001.
David Kyle/NBAE Photos
HEAD COACH: Dan Hughes
2001 RESULTS: 22-10
(First place, Eastern Conference; lost 2-1 to Charlotte in conference semifinals)
2002 DRAFT PICKS:
WHO TO WATCH: Merlakia Jones, creator of the "Lake Shake", is the Rockers' perennial All-Star. Look for Jones to continue to lead the offensive charge for Cleveland this season. Chasity Melvin and Rushia Brown have worked together for a couple of season and, combined with the young Ann Wauters, make for a very formidable front line in the East. Wauters should continue to build upon last year's break out performance, and Australian Penny Taylor is coming off of an excellent season in the Australian league where she led the WNBL in scoring (25.5 ppg) and steals (2.5spg).
ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman: "Cleveland returns a group of veterans in Rushia Brown, Mery Andrade, Merlakia Jones and Jennifer Rizzotti that are some of the best in the game, plus two great young players in Penny Taylor and Ann Wauters."
HOW THEY'LL WIN: Last year Cleveland finished with the best record in the Eastern conference. This was no surprise considering they were the best defensive team in the league, holding their opponents to a league-low 55.9 ppg. For Cleveland to win, they need to continue their defensive tenacity and find a way to score. Much of the responsibilities in the offensive department will fall upon Jones, Melvin, Andrade and Waters.
Lieberman: "The Rockers will be a playoff team again. They are a veteran team and are great on the offensive glass. They are so good defensively and take areas of the floor away from opponents and make them take shots they normally wouldn�t take. The Rockers will be very difficult in the East."
WHAT THEY NEED: Cleveland needs to fill the void left by Helen Darling at the point. Early on, these responsibilites should fall to veteran guard Jennifer Rizzotti. Rizzotti has proven herself to be a capable leader, coaching the University of Hartford to their first NCAA tournament berth. Newcomer Brandi McCain has an opportunity to play some significant minutes here this season as well if she can transition to the next level smoothly.
WHERE THEY'LL FINISH: Cleveland should finish in the top four in the East again and should be a lock for a playoff berth.
|NANCY LIEBERMAN, ESPN ANALYST|
|"The Rockers had a tremendous draft. Forward Deanna Jackson is a Tina Thompson-type player. Guard Brandi McCain is undersized but she is tenacious and will get up in your face defensively. She is even quicker than Helen Darling (congrats to her, by the way, on her triplets). I thought Angie Welle was a steal at No. 31 in the draft. I�m not sure how she fell that far, but coach Dan Hughes did a very good job drafting."|