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After coaching change, Charlotte on winning path

Take a look at the Charlotte Sting and you might become a big believer in the concept that change is good.

After two playoff seasons, Charlotte opened with a win over Washington, then lost eight of its next 12.

By July 12, the team was 5-8 and the front office had seen enough. Coach Marynell Meadors was fired, and assistant Dan Hughes was named interim coach.

It may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Sting.

Charlotte improved to 15-13, winning seven of its past 10.

The players say they are happier without without Meadows. And that, they say, has led each player to improve.

"Now there is a more positive spirit amongst the team and the whole organization," center Rhonda Mapp said. "When you're in a situation where everything is positive, then that's how you're going to perform.

"Maybe the situation in the beginning wasn't like that because not everyone was involved with the system. That's when you have a lot of frustration involved, and a lot of negative energy comes into affect."

TIGHT RACE CONTINUES: One week remains in the season, and Charlotte is one of five teams in the Eastern Conference still vying for a playoff spot. The Sting and New York are battling for the top seed and a first-round bye. During the past two weeks, the Sting has alternated with the Liberty for the top spot.

Charlotte (15-14) is 1{ games out of first behind New York (16-12).

The Sting will play three of its final four games on a tough road swing that includes Sacramento, Los Angeles and Phoenix. In contrast, New York will finish with three of four at home, ending the season at Cleveland, one of two teams eliminated from the playoff race (along with Utah).

Detroit lost eight of its past 11, yet amazingly has managed to hold on to the third seed in the East. The Shock is one-half game ahead of Orlando and one ahead of Washington.

Shock coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline said the team realizes it's do or die.

"We're playing for our playoff lives," Lieberman-Cline said. "We have to play desperate _ we have to _ or our dreams and goals will go away."

HANDS-DOWN WINNER?: The general consensus around the league is that Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw is the front-runner for rookie of the year.

Holdsclaw, who will play at Orlando on Sunday, was named player of the week for the second time. She averaged 22 points, 7 rebounds, 1.75 blocks and 1.25 steals. Holdsclaw is fifth in scoring (18.2) and fourth in rebounds (8.2).

The Tennessee product is the leading scorer for the Mystics, who have won five straight games to stay in the playoff hunt.

"After the 12-day, West Coast road trip, just being around each other, getting more team unity and learning each other a little bit better has let us play with a little more heart and more passion," Holdsclaw said. "We're playing together as a team, and we trust each other a little bit more. Right now, we're playing defense at such a high level it shocks me at times. Hopefully, even if we don't make the playoffs, we know we've created something special."

JOINING THE ELITE: The 1,000-point club is suddenly becoming crowded.

On Aug. 1, Liberty guard Sophia Witherspoon became the sixth player to reach the mark in a game against Orlando. The next day, Detroit forward Wendy Palmer and Houston forward Tina Thompson scored their 1,000th point. On Aug. 4, forward Eva Nemcova of the Cleveland Rockers did it against Orlando. Four days later, Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes became the 10th player. Guards Vickie Johnson and Nikki McCray of New York and Washington, respectively, hit the mark Wednesday.

Earlier, Los Angeles' Lisa Leslie (June 10), Charlotte's Andrea Stinson (July 3) and Vicky Bullett (July 25) reached the mark.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.