Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tonight's Gameplan

The Sonics wrap up their preseason slate at KeyArena tonight, hosting the Golden State Warriors (7:00 p.m., KTTH 770 AM, TICKETS).

The first goal tonight is showing improvement and progress after losses last week to the Lakers and Houston in which the Sonics were outplayed.

"We want to get better each day," Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo said yesterday. "I don't think we got better in the L.A. game or in the Houston game. I think we've worked in practice, but when we've had a chance to take another step forward against L.A. and Houston, we didn't."

Carlesimo will continue to pare the rotation as the Sonics focus on getting minutes - and, more importantly, getting minutes together - for the players and lineups who will likely see time during the regular season.

"I think as we play more of the same people together from game to game, that will help," Carlesimo said. "Right now, we need to get more of the core group playing together so they get more reps and guys start getting used to playing with each other. If we play more of the guys who are going to play, the guys who have shown to this point that they're playing better or they're more ready, we'll play better just by virtue of that. Still, that doesn't change the fact that we have a lot to do."

Two guys who are probably in that group might not play tonight. Guard Delonte West is a game-time decision because of a right quad contusion that kept him out of yesterday's practice. Center Robert Swift will likely play tomorrow night in Portland, but probably cannot play in back-to-back games at this point.

West has been bothered by injuries much of training camp.

"Delonte's biggest problem has been being able to practice right now," said Carlesimo. "We need to get him healthy and get him on the floor before we can even evaluate. He's had a couple of games where, individually, he's done some really good things. That's good for us and the fact that he can play one or two is good for us. But until we see him playing with the team and the unit playing better, it's really hard - I'm not diminishing at all what he did in Sacramento and what he did the other night, but the biggest thing is getting him healthy and practicing with the team."

The center position remains wide open. Carlesimo will get a look at another option at the five tonight, when Nick Collison will likely play center alongside Chris Wilcox because Swift is likely to sit out. The fact that the Sonics are playing a pair of running teams (Golden State tonight and Phoenix Friday in Vancouver, B.C.) will change what the coaching staff looks at up front in those games.

"This week is kinda interesting the way it's set up," explained Carlesimo, "because we've got two teams - not that they don't have good bigs - but two teams that are two of, if not the best transition teams in the league and two that tend to play smaller than most. And you've got Portland in between, which is a big team. The way Robert is now, it's doubtful he's going to play back-to-backs, so he's going to play more Wednesday than he'll play Tuesday. That will give us a chance to look at Nick and Weezy together, hopefully, for what seems like the first time. We'll use this week to do that."

Carlesimo said that Collison and Wilcox are a potential starting lineup. But, he explained shortly thereafter, he's not thinking that much about his starting lineup. The Sonics also start the season with a back-to-back, which could take Swift out of the picture in one of those games. On top of that, both of those teams (Denver and Phoenix) are running teams, which could have an impact on how minutes are distributed at center.

Against running teams, the Sonics may also try to go small at times with Jeff Green or potentially Wally Szczerbiak at power forward. That is something else Carlesimo would like to look at sometime this week.

"We may use either tomorrow or Friday - one of the two - we'll look at Jeff, perhaps Wally a little bit, at four," Carlesimo said. "If we're going to play small against some teams, Golden State is one that comes to mind and Phoenix, maybe. Not that Phoenix is a small, small team. Shawn is ... I don't know what he is. He's so hard to describe. Sometimes you have to guard him with a smaller guy. Golden State, they could have five smalls on the floor. You don't know what they're going to do. Two of the three games this week are probably a chance for us to look at Jeff at four and/or Wally at four."