Friday, November 30, 2007

Opposing View: 11/30 vs. Indiana

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Tonight, Conrad Brunner of talks about Indiana's recent surge. Don't miss Conrad's preview of tonight game, while the Indy Cornrows blog is another great source for Pacers information. Mike Wells' Pacers Insider blog on the Indianapolis Star's site rounds out the tour of the net, Pacers-style.
Now, to Conrad's answers.

Jim O'Brien has brought a new style to Indiana, including a faster pace. How has this helped the Pacers?
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley has basically been unleashed and as a result is playing the best all-around basketball of his career. With Tinsley free to push the tempo and create, the team’s wing players – Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Marquis Daniels – have played much more prominent roles in the offense than the past. As a result, there is less pressure on Jermaine O’Neal to be the focal point of every offensive set because there is a greater diversity of weapons and tactics.

Mike Dunleavy seems to be reaping the benefits of playing under O'Brien. How is his game different this season?
He added some muscle in the offseason and appears much more confident and comfortable. He has said O’Brien’s system is very similar philosophically to that in which he thrived at Duke. Last year, the team didn’t run much and he was mainly viewed as a spot-up or kick-out shooter. This year he’s doing things on the move, has the ball in his hands more and as a result tends to be much more in rhythm when he shoots. He averages 22 points in victories and 11 in losses so it’s clear how important he’s become to the team’s success.

How thankful is everyone in Indiana that Danny Granger inexplicable dropped to the 17th pick in the 2005 Draft?
We’re still trying to figure that one out. He was fifth on the Pacers draft board. He not only is a very talented player who appears in the brink of legitimate stardom, he’s a high-quality person and respected professional who holds himself to high standards on and off the court.

What are the main reasons the Pacers have got off to a strong 2-0 start on this West Coast swing?
They’ve been going through a culture change from a strict halfcourt system of the previous four seasons to a much more free-flowing style this year. Early on, they ran in fits and starts but not for full games. They also didn’t fully comprehend how hard it would be to execute an up-tempo offense while maintaining a commitment to strong defense. Lately, they’re playing much more complete games in terms of maintaining tempo and commitment. They entered this trip having played seven straight games against teams with winning records and went 4-3, so they were confident heading West, and that confidence appears to be growing.

What don't we know but should about the Pacers?
I’d have to say it’s that they’re really one of the younger teams in the league, though they’re rarely perceived as such. Jeff Foster, 30, is the oldest player on the roster and fully 12 of their 15 players are 27 or younger. Key rotation players like Granger, Shawne Williams, Ike Diogu (who’s hurt) and David Harrison are all emerging talents.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/30 vs. Indiana

The two Sonics wins over Indiana last season came by a combined three points, including Luke Ridnour's buzzer-beating game-winner at KeyArena on Dec. 1.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Carlesimo Touches on Several Topics

The Sonics had a very brief session Thursday, shooting for around 15 minutes as P.J. Carlesimo continues to try to get his team some rest during the midst of a busy November schedule that culminates tomorrow night against Indiana with the 17th game for the Sonics of the season.

Afterwards, a quiet media session with just the beat writers and Gary Hill from the Sonics broadcast team in attendance that gave us the chance to get some updates from Carlesimo on a variety of topics. "You guys are asking tough questions today," Carlesimo joked at one point. You can listen to some of the audio by clicking here.

One topic I'd been meaning to ask about was the fact that the Sonics have slowed down slightly from their league-leading pace early in the season. As of now, the Sonics rank fourth in the league in possessions per game, averaging 97.0 a night.

"We don't want to slow down," Carlesimo first emphasized before discussing possible explanations.

"I think part of it is the grind," he said. "We've had a bad November.

"A lot of it is we're just not pushing the ball as much as we did, at times - as much as we would like to. We're also seeing, as you get deeper into the year, we're seeing teams that know us better and know what we want to do and we're trying to do."

The good news is that another minor factor in the change of pace is the fact that the opposition isn't getting as many easy buckets off of Sonics turnovers. After averaging 19.7 turnovers per game over the first nine games of the season, the Sonics are down to 13.7 giveaways over their last seven contests. The last three games, the Sonics have averaged but 10 turnovers a night.

Another topic of discussion was the point-guard position, where Delonte West moved into the starting lineup for Tuesday's game against the Lakers.

"I want to give him, certainly, some more starts before we start saying things like, 'I think this guy's more suited to starting,' or, 'We like him better coming off the bench' or 'This is the pecking order right now for these three guys,'" Carlesimo explained. "Obviously, we're not going to have that one for a while."

According to Carlesimo, Luke Ridnour is still 10 days to two weeks away from returning from the torn left quad that has sidelined him for the last two weeks.

"Once he's ready to practice, then we need to put him out on the floor and get him some games (as a starter) too," noted Carlesimo. "We're not going to get the kind of resolution we want for a while."

Carlesimo also was asked about rookie Kevin Durant's progress as a playmaker. Over the last three games, when he's shot the ball better, Durant has also handed out 11 assists - as many as he had in his previous eight games. Carlesimo pointed out recently that Durant might have a few more assists if plays in which he set up teammates to go to the free-throw line counted in that category.

"I think he is becoming better, certainly, with his decision-making, certainly with his shot selection, and he is involving people more," Carlesimo said. "We're also putting him in more pick-and-rolls now than we did earlier. He's getting more assists." Appearance

Jim Eichenhoffer of was nice enough to invite me to contribute as a guest analyst for their site's weekly NBA Notebook. Check out some discussion featuring Jim and Dennis Rogers from the Hornets about Sonics rookie Kevin Durant, the Wizards facing life without Gilbert Arenas for the time being and a fast start from the Bucks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Opposing View: 11/28 vs. Orlando

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Nick Adams from answers our five questions on the Magic.

What has the reaction been like amongst the Magic to getting off to such a strong start?
Despite their great start, the team remains very humble and focused. Anytime you ask them about their early success they all have the same answer: "We haven't accomplished anything yet and we aren't focused on our record but rather we are focused on our next opponent."

They are like robots when it comes to answering questions, and credit that to head coach Stan Van Gundy. He has them mentally tough, focused, and determined. They may hit a rough stretch at some point in the season, as most teams do, but Van Gundy won't let that last very long. Van Gundy is constantly pushing them and the guys are really buying into his concepts.

What has the Magic done to rank as one of the league's top three defenses?
Well ... once again credit Stan Van Gundy and his coaching staff with much of their success at the defensive end. The very first meeting Van Gundy and his staff had with the team, the first thing he said was that they were going to be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.

He has continued to push the guys in that aspect and the guys are really making a conscience effort to play with energy and intensity on defense. The player know that if they don't play hard defense, they won't play, and Van Gundy has made that very clear.

Furthermore, anytime you have a player like Dwight Howard in the middle, you are going to be successful on defense. The casual basketball fan will look at a Dwight 35-point, 17-rebound night and not realize how much he changed the game at the defensive end. Their team defense is built solely around Dwight in the middle. Guys like Rashard, Jameer, and Bogans can really get up and pressure the ball because they know that if their guy beats them off the dribble, Dwight is there waiting to send the shot in the third row.

So in summary, Van Gundy stressing his concepts, Dwight Howard in the middle, and the rest of team's pressure and intensity have led to the Magic ranking in the top three NBA defenses.

Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu have gotten lost a little in explaining the fast start. What roles have they played?
Anytime you are on a team with a rising superstar with the likes of a Dwight Howard or a big ticket free-agent pick-up like Rashard Lewis, the other guys on your team tend to get overshadowed. As you stated, Jameer and Hedo have gotten lost in explaining the Magic's fast start, but they are just as valuable as Dwight and Rashard.

Jameer is the floor general. Van Gundy really pushed Jameer during training camp, and continues to get on his point guard about becoming that floor general. I think Jameer is exactly what you want in your point guard. He is strong both mentally, physically, and his toughness gets overlooked. He can shot well and has the ability to finish at the basket which puts pressure on the defense to guard those abilities therefore allowing Jameer to distribute the ball to the open player. Jameer has made an effort to take better care of the ball and his assist-to-turnover ratio is much improved from a season ago. Jameer is the heart and sole of the team and I think GM Otis Smith realized this singing Jameer to a contract extension earlier this season.

Hedo is having his best season as a professional basketball player in the NBA. He has really stepped up big this season and has relieved pressure off of Dwight and Rashard. Hedo has really thrived in Van Gundy's offensive schemes which give players the freedom to create their own shots. He came into camp in great shape and was focused from the moment he came back to Orlando. Van Gundy says that when Hedo is aggressive on offense, it is when the Magic are at their best offensively.

How will the recent trade for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans help the Magic?
When the Magic lost starting power forward Tony Battie for the entire season with a shoulder injury, the Magic front office knew they had to get another big body and add depth to their roster, and adding Brian Cook and Maurice Evans accomplish both.

Brian Cook is a good young player who gives the Magic another big body to help out Dwight Howard down low. Cook is not your prototypical big man in the fact that he plays more of a perimeter game. Cook's ability to shoot well from outside leaves the post open for Dwight to do his thing. Cook also fits in well with Van Gundy's style on offense which gives freedom for the three-point shot, something Cook has proven to be one of his strengths.

Maurice Evans is another good young player who provides much needed depth to the Magic roster. Evans is extremely athletic, plays good perimeter defense, and can shoot well from beyond the arc, all characteristics of what Van Gundy is looking for at the swingman position. In Evans, the Magic get a better shooting, better defending Trevor Ariza, the player they traded to Los Angeles for Evans and Cook.

Overall, I think it was a great move by the Magic.

What don't we know about the Magic but should?
They are a legit contender to represent the East in the NBA Finals. I know it is still very early but if you have the opportunity, which you will on Wednesday, watch this team play. They play hard, smart, and together.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/28 vs. Orlando

HowardOn Nov. 16 at New Jersey, Orlando center Dwight Howard grabbed the 3,000th rebound of his precocious career. At age 21, 343 days, Howard became the youngest player in NBA history to reach the milestone, beating another Magic big man, Shaquille O'Neal (23 years, 32 days).

Howard had a head start coming out of high school, but despite being just 18 at the start of his rookie season, he required just 256 games to get to 3,000 (an 11.7 rpg average). O'Neal reached the mark in 234 games.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Opposing View: 11/27 at L.A. Lakers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold answered some questions, and also previewed the Sonics on his blog. The new BasketBlog is also a great source for Lakers info.

What was different for the Lakers in their strong start as compared to the last few games?
The Lakers are not a team with a wide margin for error, so it doesn’t take much to knock them off their stride. In this case, it was a the combination of a couple injuries and some players still trying to adjust to their roles. Kwame Brown, for as much as his offensive game has regressed (yes, Wizards fans, it was possible), the big-body defense he plays is a key for the front line. He is out indefinitely because Ben Wallace fell into his knee. Also, all-world energy guy Ronny Turiaf turned an ankle and is not 100%, which also has weakened the front-line defense. Their injuries — plus the trade of Mo Evans and Brian Cook (for Trevor Ariza, who has yet to see the floor but may tonight) — has altered what was a second unit that keyed several victories for the first few weeks. On top of it all, Lamar Odom is still adjusting to playing the three spot, meaning he plays more on the wing, and his game has suffered some nights. Combine it all and you have three straight losses, but none of the problems are things that should lead to panic. The issues are solvable.

Where is Andrew Bynum at in his development?
He’s made a big leap forward this year after spending the summer focusing largely on conditioning. He came out of high school at age 17 so incredibly raw it’s hard to imagine now (in a summer league game not long after he was drafted I watched him take a hook shot off the wrong foot). The first couple years he worked with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others on improving his fundamentals, but when pressed into action last year due to injuries all that improvement was undercut by him not being in starter’s shape. He faded at the end of games and in back-to-backs.

This season he has dropped the baby fat and put on muscle, and that has had the side benefit of a boost in confidence. Combine all that with better point guard play and what you get is a guy who can earn better position on the block, get the ball in a good spot and then do something with it. The most noticeable place of improvement is Bynum has become a beast on the boards, averaging 15.9 rebounds per 40 minutes of play. He still has moments of being just 20 years old, moments of mental lapses (such as at the end of the Nets game as detailed by Henry Abbott at True Hoop yesterday), but he is showing far more of his potential this year. The “Trade Bynum” bandwagon in Los Angeles has a lot fewer people on it these days.

How is the PG position different for the Lakers than it was last season?
Last year Smush Parker was staring for the Lakers, this season he can’t get out of Pat Riley’s dog house on a team that desperately needs better PG play. This year the Lakers have the steadying force of Derek Fisher (in and out of the locker room) and the improved play of Jordan Farmar. These guys both have a high basketball IQ and run the offense as the triangle was meant, attacking what the defense gives you (Smush often broke out of the offense). Farmar has become a good defender and pushes the ball on offense, he is really a change of energy and pace off the bench that has won the Lakers a couple games this year.

It looks like Vladimir Radmanovic is fulfilling the expectations the Lakers had when they signed him. What's different this year?
He’s healthy. Last year a wrist injury kept him on the sidelines during camp and he never really caught up on the learning curve, he was never comfortable in the offense. Then there was the now-legendary snowboarding trip and accident. That put him in the coaching staff’s doghouse and he never got out. This season he is playing like what Sonics fans remember — not the most consistent guy, but when coming off the bench he was a very good scorer (how many teams have a second unit guy who can really stop his shot when it is going?).

What should we know but don't about the Lakers?
That the Lakers are pushing the tempo this year. Fans tend to think of Phil Jackson and the triangle offense as a slow-it-down, half-court offense, but that’s not the way Tex Winter drew it up. Pressing the pace early in the clock is a key tenant of Tex’s design, but one Phil never really emphasized, particularly in the early years in Los Angeles when Shaq was a focal point in the offense but never could really fill a lane on the break. This year the Lakers are off and running, averaging 95.3 possessions per game, seventh fastest in the league. Farmar and the second unit really bring a faster tempo in the game with them. Combine that with the Sonics up-tempo style (97.3, third in the league) and this should be an entertaining contest.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/27 at L.A. Lakers

The Lakers PR department notes that, after trading Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to Orlando for Trevor Ariza last week, the Lakers became the NBA's second-youngest team in terms of average age (25 years, 158 days). They passed the Sonics, who have an average age of 25 years, 167 days.

Portland, at 24 years, 53 days, is the NBA's youngest team in terms of average age.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Opposing View: 11/25 vs. San Antonio

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. John Robbins of took time out to answer five questions on the defending champs. Also see Mike Monroe's feature in the San Antonio Express-News on the Spurs and P.J. Carlesimo putting aside their feelings for each other tonight.

How is this year's Spurs team different from the squad that won the NBA championship last year?
Essentially, it’s the same team. The starting five that the Spurs had on June 14 is the same starting five that they have now. The one major move made in the off-season was the acquisition of free agent Ime Udoka. Most Sonics fans are probably familiar with Ime since he spent last season in Portland where he averaged 8.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists while starting in all 75 games in which he appeared with the Trail Blazers.

Manu Ginobili has been on fire so far this season. Is he doing anything different than in years past?
Manu’s hot start is just Manu being Manu. He gives 110% every night and when his shots are falling his numbers garner a lot of attention. That being said, the man dubbed “El Contusion” by Brent Barry did give his body a deserving rest this summer by opting not to join the Argentinean national team for international play.

“His summer off obviously helped him a lot," Tony Parker said recently. "It looks like he's got a lot more energy. He's being very aggressive and shooting the ball very well.”

Having won series with and without it, how important is home-court advantage for the Spurs as a goal?
It’s important, but not as important as becoming better as a team. The goal is to consistently improve throughout the course of the season, whether it’s on the road or at home, and then be playing basketball at the highest level possible when the playoffs arrive. If that is achieved, the rest takes care of itself.

The Spurs brought over 2005 first-round pick Ian Mahinmi, who is getting some experience in the D-League. What can we expect from him in the future?
Ian has a great opportunity this year to familiarize himself with the Spurs brand of basketball. He’s already had a taste of it after starting the regular season on the Spurs roster and now he will have the chance to play extended minutes under the guidance of Austin Toros Head Coach Quin Snider.

“He's a very competitive young man," Gregg Popovich has said. "He possesses good athleticism as far as running the court and getting to the basketball, that kind of stuff. He's improved his moves down on the block steadily as he's been playing with this caliber of player."

What don't we know but should about the Spurs?
The Spurs spend almost as much time helping the San Antonio community as they do entertaining it on the court. Spurs players, coaches, front office personnel, Silver Dancers, Coyote and former player George Gervin make more than 1,200 appearances in the community each year.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/25 vs. San Antonio

The Sonics have had their most success on offense during the second quarter this season. They are averaging 28.7 points per second quarter, as opposed to an average of 23.6 points in the other three quarters.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Opposing View: 11/23 vs. New Jersey

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview.'s Matt McQueeny is traveling to the West Coast with the team and took some time out to answer our questions. Check out Matt's blog for more inside info on the Nets. Also give a look to the JoeNetsFan blog and as well as the always-entertaining blog by Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger.

The Nets struggled in Vince Carter's absence, then got back in the winning column in his return Wednesday. How much of a difference did his injury make?
His injury made a very big difference. Not just because the Nets lost the obvious last-year 25 point a game scorer but because of the effect he has all the way down the lineup. He is an instigator and an initator. With him on the floor, by default, he draws a double-team. He creates spacing for guys like Bostjan Nachbar, Antoine Wright and even Richard Jefferson to thrive on the perimeter. He is a phenomenal pick-n-roll player with both the small and big players, opening up the easy scoring lanes for guys like Josh Boone and, in time, Sean Williams. He diversifies the attack in that, when he and Jason Kidd are on the floor together, there are two guys who can run the pick-and-roll to perfection. The Nets were having offensive trouble with him through the first couple of games, that must be mentioned, but look at Nachbar, for instance. He was a guy who the Nets relied on heavily in the second half last year and was shooting just 36% from the field and 27% from three going into Wednesday's game with the Blazers. Vince returns and Nachbar breaks out, to the tune of 23 points, including four three-pointers in the fourth quarter that all either tied up the score at the time or gave the Nets a lead coming from a deficit. People like to criticize him for how it looks like he is playing the game at times, but as Nets coaches and management like to say, name five guys in the league who can average 25 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Jefferson is off to a fine start to the season. Is this another step in his development?
More than a step in his development, this season represents a return to full health. Jefferson had ankle problems last season - for which he eventually got surgery - that robbed him of explosion. Without explosion for a player like him, it is like playing a sports video game without being able to use the "turbo" button. Jefferson is still only 27, the time many say is the entrance of a player's "prime," and works very hard to get better every season. The guy is an insanely efficient player, a winner, and a prime defender. He has grown up in the NBA entirely under Jason Kidd and has fostered many of his positive attributes through the six years they have been together. Also, he is the guy on the Nets who finds points, especially by getting to the free-throw line. Through 11 games this season, he was fifth in the league in average free-throw attempts, at 9.8 per game. And he is knocking them down, shooting 89%.

Rookie Sean Williams is a guy the league is buzzing about right now. What can you tell us about him?
The "rook" has opened eyes. Coming to the Nets, everybody knew his innate freakish athletic ability but there were questions about his development and maturity level. If the 21 year-old did not have troubles at Boston College, many say he would have been a top-five lottery pick. In Summer League, some of the entusiasm about him making an immediate impact were tempered as he did not have a great showing, though he did show improvement as the week progressed. But since then, he has made continual strides. As the competition got better, he stepped up to that level. His explosion is unbelievable and his shot-blocking prowess is ridiculous. There are usually two to three of his plays a game where you gasp and double-take, wondering if you really saw what you just saw. Before the game with the Blazers, Sean was already sixth in the league in blocks per game, with 2.5, and that was while playing just 21 minutes a game. He is making his share of game-plan mistakes - as a rookie and young player will - but what he can do on the court has made an absolute difference. He has even started two times this season. He has already had four blocks in a game three times this season, which is more games than the Nets had that happen all of last season. He has a praying mantis-like attack. He has blocked - off the top of my mind - three transition attempts this season where the opponent was in the open court, ahead of the pack, and Sean comes out of nowhere to erase it.

How much will the Nets benefit when Nenad Krstic is back to full strength in his comeback from a torn ACL?
They will benefit greatly. He is still not quite there; they are currently looking again at what the best plan of attack for getting his conditioning right is. The knee is fine, but the conditioning has been an issue. He needs time in games, but if he is struggling, the Nets cannot afford to keep him out there. Catch 22. So they are re-assessing how to treat him. For now, they are working him out very hard outside of the games, and pulling back his minutes - he is coming off the bench now - in games. Running up and down the court is not the problem for him; rather, it is moving laterally. He is still a step behind. He will be back to the 17-point, seven-rebound player, but it is a process and one which the Nets can't afford to let games slip away for. He is a tireless worker who never wants to stop, and he feels at a low point right now, but he knows he is on the way back and has faith that he will be back to his old self before long.

What don't we know but should about the Nets?
Might know it, but it's impressive for a team that was futile for so many years: the Nets have made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. There are only four teams in the NBA who claim a similar or better consecutive playoff-string. They are Detroit, Dallas, and San Antonio. You cannot forget how swiftly one man - Jason Kidd - changed the fortunes of this franchise.

Kidd notched his 90th career triple double against the Blazers. It was, amazingly, his 52nd as a Net. There are only five franchises that have had more total triple-doubles than Kidd, including the Nets.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Day After

On behalf of the entire Sonics & Storm organization, I hope everyone out there had a great Thanksgiving.

After Wednesday's practice, Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo was asked what he's thankful for this time of year.

"A million things," he said. "My family's health. The fact that I'm here coaching in Seattle.

"We all make a very good living doing something we really like to do, so if anybody has reason to be thankful, it's our group - the players and the coaches - for sure."

Tomorrow brings a Sonics tradition - a home game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It's a great chance to see the lights newly decorating the Seattle Center campus and downtown and then take in a game.

The first one of those I remember attending was a full 11 years ago, when the Sonics beat a Phoenix Suns team that had started the season 0-13 and had just won its first game under new Head Coach Danny Ainge the day before Thanksgiving. Those two teams would end up meeting in a great first-round playoff series. I'm not sure any of that is interesting, but I remember it all (with a little assist from on Phoenix's record) anyway.

Kia Surprising Stat - 11/23 vs. New Jersey

The Nets annually make a road trip to the West Coast during the week of Thanksgiving. During the Jason Kidd era, dating back to 2001-02, New Jersey is 9-21 on the Thanksgiving trip. That includes two Sonics wins in three matchups over the last five years.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sonics Return to Furtado

It feels like an enternity since I attended a Sonics practice at The Furtado Center. Before today, they last practiced there on Nov. 10, which was a week and a half ago - but that's a long time in a season that's only three weeks old.

The Sonics got back to Seattle late Monday night after flying from Memphis and took yesterday off to rest. They're currently in their longest break of the early season, three days, which is useful after a long road trip that included five games in seven days. Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo admitted it would have been tough for the team if they'd had to play today; instead, they get two days to work on the practice court before hosting New Jersey Friday. They did some scrimmaging during the portion of the practice open to the media, as well as the usual shooting drills.

Some other notes:
- Carlesimo said Jeff Green's start on Monday in Memphis was to match up with the quick lineup employed by the Grizzlies. While the Sonics did not get off to a poor start and Green played well, recording his first career double-double, Carlesimo indicated he'd likely go back to the duo of Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison up front on Friday - depending on the availability of Robert Swift and Kurt Thomas, who have been sidelined recently. Swift and Thomas were able to go through part of Wednesday's practice.

- Over the next week or so, Carlesimo plans to meet with the players who have seen heavy minutes and discuss with them what he's seen as well as get their thoughts. With 12 games in the books, the Sonics are already more than 1/7 of the way through the season, which Carlesimo belives is a good enough stretch to have those kinds of discussions. They could be especially valuable for rookies Green and Kevin Durant, whom Carlesimo was planning to speak to at some point before Friday's game.

- Johan Petro did not practice because of a lower back strain.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Opposing View: 11/19 at Memphis

I didn't get out my five questions in time to get responses today, but we had Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer talk about the Grizzlies less than two weeks ago, and his responses remain relevant. Don't forget to give Herrington's Beyond the Arc blog a look.

At, Graham Kendrick has a good preview of tonight's game. One-time Seattle P-I Sonics beat writer Ron Tillery, now covering the Grizzlies for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, discusses Memphis' close losses. Wrap up your Grizzlies trip around the Interweb with 3 Shades of Blue's preview.

UPDATE: Spoke too soon. Despite some e-mail issues, Kendrick answered some questions for me in time for tonight's game.

How are the Grizzlies responding to some heartbreaking close losses early in the season?
The Grizzlies have responded extremely well to some recent heartbreaking losses. Consider the Grizzlies’ last week: they began with a big win at home over the Rockets last Tuesday, then took went down to the wire the next night in Milwaukee before losing a tough game by three. Friday night they came home to take on the streaking New Orleans Hornets, and were down five with 13.5 seconds left, before making three straight three-pointers and forcing overtime. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies couldn’t score in the last three and a half minutes of the extra period and lost by two. So with two straight close losses they headed to Dallas Saturday for their fourth game in five nights. They hung tough for most of the night, but went down by 10 midway through the fourth. At that point it seemed like a done deal, but they battled back to within three with two chances to tie the game on the last possession. They ended up losing by three, but all things considered it was a strong showing. What that tells me is that this team is able to quickly put tough losses behind them and move on to the next game, which is an important trait for a young, emerging team.

Is it fair to call this a breakout season for Rudy Gay?
Definitely. Rudy has improved leaps and bounds in his sophomore NBA season. While many people will just point to his scoring average and make that determination, there’s much more to it than that. Last season he often seemed lost and indecisive on the court. He’d get the ball on the wing, dribble a few times, then take a wild shot or make an ill-advised foray into double coverage in the paint. This season is a whole different story. His decision-making has improved greatly, and while his ballhandling still needs work, it’s better than last year. More importantly, he’s developed a consistent enough three-point shot (38.1%) that defenses have to respect him when he’s on the perimeter. While most people would like to see him pull down more than 3.8 rebounds and dish out more than 0.7 assists, Gay is definitely a vastly improved player over last year.

With Juan Carlos Navarro playing so well in addition to Pau Gasol, is it time to start preceding games at FedExForum with the Spanish National Anthem?
If Navarro can continually hit eight of nine three-point attempts like he did Friday, then Memphians will be happy to learn the melody to “La Marcha Real”. After a slow start to the season, La Bomba went crazy against the Hornets Friday night. He drained five straight three-pointers in the first half and basically carried the offense in the second quarter, before hitting three more in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies battled back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime. He has a lightning-quick release that makes it appear as if he’s just flicking his wrist when he shoots, which means he needs very little room to get his shot off. Against Dallas Saturday the Grizzlies were down by three late in the fourth quarter. They could have run a play for an established veteran like Mike Miller or Damon Stoudamire, but instead they ran a play for Navarro, who the Mavericks inexplicably left open. He missed two chances to send the game to overtime, but has proven that he has adapted to the NBA game. As for Gasol, he’s off to a bit of a slow start, by his standards anyway, but he’s battled a stiff back early in the season. At this point in his career the team knows what to expect from Gasol, and everyone’s confident his numbers will come back up.

What don't we know but should about the Grizzlies?
It’s not what you should know, but who you should know. If you asked fans around the country which point guard among Stoudamire, Michael Conley and Kyle Lowry was getting the bulk of the minutes, how many would say Lowry? He only played 10 games last year before suffering a broken wrist and he doesn’t start, but he does get 25 minutes a game, usually including crunch time in the fourth quarter. Former MLB closer Mitch Williams used to say he “played like his hair was on fire”, and I think that applies to Lowry as well. He doesn’t look like a traditional speedster in the mold of Tony Parker or T.J. Ford, but he routinely blows by defenders and gets into the lane and changes the pace of the game. Defensively he’s a disruptive force who terrorizes opposing guards with relentless effort. He’s a fan favorite in Memphis, with many people calling for him to take over starting duties from Damon Stoudamire. Whether that happens or not, NBA fans around the country will get to know Lowry soon.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/19 at Memphis

Sonics forward Damien Wilkins is one of just seven NBA players hitting at least 50% of their three-pointers, minimum 20 attempts. Wilkins is 19-of-36 (52.8%) from downtown this season.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/17 at Charlotte

Damien Wilkins scored a career-high 41 points in Atlanta, coming within two points of the career high for his father, Gerald. According to, Gerald Wilkins scored 40-plus points twice in his career, including a career-high 43 for the New York Knicks on Feb. 21, 1987 at New Jersey.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Opposing View: 11/16 at Atlanta

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. boasts one of the best in the business in Micah Hart, and he was happy to answer our five questions. I also answered five questions about the Sonics, and you can link from there to a video breakdown of the Sonics by Atlanta assistant David Fizdale. I'd also suggest checking out's Blog Roundtable, which you can follow to plenty of Hawks blogs.

On a scale of 1-10, how exciting was having the Hawks beat Dallas and Phoenix in their first two home games?
I give it a solid 10 out of 10 - not only because we beat two of the titans of the league right out of the gate, but also because the games played to raucous, sellout crowds that gave a glimpse for what kind of place this has the potential to be if we start winning regularly. Those wins were great because neither of those teams lost because of poor play - we just went toe-to-toe with them and were the better team in each contest.

Will this be a breakout year for Bremerton's Marvin Williams?
It is certainly looking that way. His confidence is through the roof right now, and the way he is shooting (57%!), you are almost surprised when one of his patented mid-range jumpers doesn't go in. As great as he has been shooting though, the best development in his game has been his aggressiveness, as he has repeatedly been driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line. With all the attention teams pay to Joe Johnson, adding him as a perimeter threat is absolutely crucial to the team's success.

What have you seen from the Hawks rookies?
The Hawks couldn't be happier with the production from Al Horford and Acie Law thus far. Horford has been everything the team expected and more on the low post, and I'm not so certain he won't give your boy KD a run for his money for Rookie of the Year honors. Acie has battled injuries a bit (including a sprained ankle suffered Wednesday when the Bobcats' Ryan Hollins landed on him well after a play was over), but he has shown incredible poise for a first year point guard. Atlanta is in great shape with both of these guys for the future, and the fans couldn't be more excited about the both of them.

Last year's Highlight Factory intro video is legendary. Which Hawks player had your favorite entrance?
I always got a kick out of Josh Childress. Anything involving his 'fro always makes for good times.

No, I'm sorry. The correct answer was Zaza Pachulia. Zaza's the best! What's one thing we don't know but should about the Hawks?
This could be a very dangerous team by season's end. As I am sure the Sonics will find out in the next couple of seasons, a young basketball team can be very maddening, even one with a lot of talent. Confidence is a huge, huge component of success in the NBA, and the Hawks have suffered for a lack of it in the past. But the team has been together for a few years now, and as we saw with the wins over Phoenix and Dallas, is capable of playing at a very high level. If their confidence continues to grow, they could really make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/16 at Atlanta

The Sonics have won seven straight games against Atlanta, their longest active winning streak against an opponent.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breaking: Wade to Play

The Associated Press has reported that All-Star guard Dwyane Wade will be active for the Miami Heat tonight against the Sonics and will make his 2007-08 debut. Wade missed the season's first seven games while rehabbing off-season surgery on his shoulder and knee.

More on Pace

Last week, I wrote about the increase in the NBA's pace of play as part of my look at the Sonics playing faster. Today, I went in much more depth on the topic for The Sonics are one of the six teams in the league clearly trying to run - they're currently second in the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/14 at Miami

The Heat has reunited Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal, who led the Orlando Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals as teammates early in their careers.

When Hardaway and O'Neal were in Orlando, the Sonics won four out of six head-to-head matchups, including a series sweep in 1994-95.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Opposing View: 11/13 at Orlando

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Nick Adams from answers our five questions on the Magic. Check out their preview as well as this scouting report from the Third Quarter Collapse blog.

Is there a limit to what Dwight Howard can become?
No, there is no limit on Dwight Howard. The other thing about him is that he is a constant worker. He is always staying after practice to work on developing his game with new assistant coach Patrick Ewing. I think we can see more of this development this season with his improved free-throw shooting. By making those extra free-throws it takes him from an 18 points a night guy to a 23-25 point guy.

What have you seen so far from Rashard Lewis?
Rashard, much like Dwight, is a hard worker. People haven't got to see the talent of Rashard, as you may know, but he is easily one of the most talented forwards in the league. He raises up for that almost unblockable jump shot with ease and can create his own shot with equal minimal effort. I was surprised to see how unselfish of a player he is. He never tries to do too much and always plays within himself and will put 20 up without you realizing it.

What impact has Stan Van Gundy had so far?
Stan has made a huge impact, more than people may realize. Stan is a fiery guy who will never let the guys get complacent and he is always pushing them to their peak abilities. I think he is a perfect fit to bring this young, talented group along. He will make the team mentally and physically tougher which is something the Magic have lacked in recent years.

How has the Magic's small lineup matched up with opponents?
It's kinda hard to gauge so far with it being still early in the season, but so far it hasn't faired too bad. I think with time the team will be more comfortable with it once they figure out how to play within the matchups. Obviously, offensively it is an advantage because you have the opponent's four man guarding either Rashard or Hedo Turkoglu, and I think that is a big reason for each of their early successes. Defensively it has created some problems because the team has been forced to double and the defensive rotation needs some work, but like I said it will improve with time.

What don't we know but should about the Magic?
They are one of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. I think Boston, Detroit, New Jersey, and Cleveland are better at the moment but I think the Magic deserves consideration as a contender in the East. The first portion of their schedule is extremely difficult with most of the games on the road and I think if they continue to steal some ballgames, they will get stronger as the season goes on and make a push for home court during the playoffs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/13 at Orlando

The Sonics are one of eight NBA teams to boast two players grabbing at least eight rebounds per game. Chris Wilcox is averaging 8.7 rpg and Nick Collison is at 8.4 rpg so far this season.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Opposing View: 11/11 vs. Detroit

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Matt Watson from the Detroit Bad Boys blog discusses the Pistons. Also see the blog Need4Sheed and's preview.

Have any of Detroit's off-season changes come in response to the loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals?
I don't think changes were made specifically to match up with the Cavs, but it was the second year in a row that the Pistons looked worn down and out of sorts in the Conference Finals. So with that in mind, Joe Dumars went about making the team younger and deeper to take some of the pressure off the starters, both in the regular season and playoffs.

Because Dumars didn't make a blockbuster deal, I don't think most people realize just how well he accomplished his goal. The Pistons had two first-round picks in one of the deepest drafts in memory, which they used on Rodney Stuckey (15th overall) and Arron Afflalo (27th). Stuckey is recovering from a broken hand suffered in the preseason finale, but once he returns he's expected to be the first guard off the bench as well as the primary backup at point, where Flip Murray played out of position last year.

Dumars also did a little addition by subtraction, clearing out a crowded frontcourt by allowing aging veterans like Chris Webber and Dale Davis walk so that Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson could see more action. Maxiell was effective in limited time last year but Johnson was absolutely buried, seeing most of his action in the D-League.

The Pistons are second in the league so far defensively. Is this the best D they've played under Flip Saunders?
I hesitate to say it's the best just because it's so early, but it's certainly been inspired. That's to be expected, I guess, considering it's been the team's calling card forever, but it's still encouraging.

When it was announced that Rasheed Wallace was moving to center and Antonio McDyess would start at power forward, my initial concern was how the team would fare against some of the league's bigger centers. So what happens? They open with games against Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard and prevent either from doing the kind of damage they usually do. One guy can't do it alone, but by efficient trapping and double-teams and rotating, they get the job done. Plus, McDyess is strong enough to man the five for long stretches and Nazr Mohammed is also available off the bench after being all but forgotten after Webber's arrival last year.

What does the emergence of Jason Maxiell do for the Pistons?
The guy has a motor that doesn't turn off, which works out perfectly since the team is now asking him to provide energy as the first big man off the bench. He stands just 6-foot-7 but plays much larger thanks to a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a violent disposition in the paint. Yes, I said "violent"; on offense he's looking to tear the rim off every chance he gets and on defense he's trying to block shots into the fifth row.

Last year, that was about all he did, but this year he's also re-dedicated himself to cleaning the glass. He's battled foul trouble a bit in the first few games so the progress he made in that department during the preseason hasn't completely carried over, but he's already had a couple of games with eight rebounds, which is pretty solid off the bench.

What did you see from Rodney Stuckey before his injury and how will his return affect the Pistons?
Stuckey may already be the best on the team in terms of getting into the paint and drawing a foul. That's not a knock on Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton, it's just that penetrating isn't their strength. But Stuckey did it time and again during the preseason, averaging nearly seven free-throw attempts in just 25 minutes a game. That kind of ability gives Detroit's offense another wrinkle.

Also, as I mentioned above, his presence should bump Flip Murray down a spot on the depth chart. As I'm sure fans in Seattle can remember, Murray has his strengths and weaknesses, and he just wasn't put in the best position to succeed when the Pistons asked him to be their primary backup point guard last year. Murray is a scorer, not a distributor, and he'll be a better fit backing up Hamilton instead of Billups. Fortunately, he should return to that role relatively soon, as Stuckey looks like he'll return from his broken hand earlier than expected, perhaps as soon after the team wraps up their five-game swing out West.

What don't we know but should about the Pistons?
On the national scene, the veteran starting lineup gets all of the accolades, but if you ask a random sampling of hard-core Pistons fans which player they're most looking forward to watching this year, Amir Johnson just might top the list.

Why all this hype for a little-used player with 11 regular-season games under his belt entering this season? First and foremost, the kid is a special kind of athlete. Drafted out of high school two years ago, he's since grown two inches and now stands 6-foot-11, and what's even better, he hasn't lost one bit of his quickness or leaping ability. While most players need to gather themselves between jumps, he's like a pogo stick in the paint, bouncing right back up to go after rebounds or block a shot.

Plus, there's the allure of the unknown. Johnson put up head-turning numbers in the D-League last year, averaging nearly 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks a game … and he didn't even turn 20 years old until May! Also, it's hard to hold against him the fact that he hasn't played too much – the Pistons have been too busy contending for a title to let a teenager go through growing pains on the court – but he should finally get his chance this year. In fact, Joe Dumars promised Johnson as much this summer when convincing Johnson to re-sign for three more years as a restricted free agent.

So why has Johnson been limited to garbage time so far? In part because he's still making up for a wasted preseason, during which he missed seven of eight games because of a sprained ankle. Plus, he's fighting for minutes with Maxiell, who's held his ground so far by making the most of his opportunities to date. But sooner or later Johnson's time will come, and there's really no telling what his ceiling might be.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/11 vs. Detroit

Through five games, the Pistons rank as the NBA's second-best defensive team, allowing just 97.6 points per 100 possessions.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thomas Returns to Practice

Veteran Sonics center Kurt Thomas, who has missed the first six games of the season after suffering a strained right hamstring in practice just before the season, returned to practice Saturday. If he responds well, Thomas could make his Sonics debut Sunday against Detroit.

"We'll see what he feels like," said Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. "If he feels good and (Athletic trainer) Mike (Shimensky) and the doctors say he's good, we'll give him some time tomorrow."

Thomas as part of the Sonics rotation at center could be part of the changes Carlesimo is expected to make on Sunday. The coaching staff has anticipated looking at different rotations and combinations over stretches of the early season because there are so many competitive positions on the roster. After giving the current group six games, it's time for a slightly different look.

"We'll see who's available, and then we'll see what we're going to do," said Carlesimo.

"The changes won't be wholesale changes - it will be a guy or two guys or something like that. And we'll tweak the minutes for a couple of people. There's some guys who have been getting more minutes, say, than somebody else. Now we'll try to bend it a little bit."

Another player who is likely to see a bigger role in coming games is point guard Luke Ridnour. The facemask Ridnour was wearing to protect his broken nose was a major factor in Carlesimo's decision to leave Ridnour out of the rotation early in the season. (Ridnour has played 11.3 minutes per game, but has not played in two of the six games.) Nearing five weeks since he broke his nose, Ridnour is able to ditch the facemask, which he did not wear during practice.

"His minutes are definitely going to go up in the near future," Carlesimo said. "Whether that's tomorrow or not, I can't say."

As for Thomas, his return to the lineup - whenever it comes - will be a major positive for the Sonics.

"I'm not sure what is realistic that he can bring immediately after basically not playing for nine days," said Carlesimo, "but when he's healthy, he brings a veteran player who's one of the better shooting bigs in the league, who's a very capable of physical post defender and somebody who's very experienced with a lot of savvy.

"People can have positive minutes, they can have negative minutes or they can be out there and not really tremendously affect you either way. At worst, Kurt's going to give us flat minutes. That alone is a plus. You're not going to get five guys giving you positive minutes all the time, but as long as you minimize people giving you negative minutes, that really helps."

Sonics Confident They're on Right Track

Tonight's 103-101 loss to Utah could easily be described as heartbreaking, but that wasn't the sense from the Sonics after the game.

"It doesn't hurt," said Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo, "because when you play that hard and that well - if we played this hard and this well, we'd be like 4-2 or at least 3-3. You can't control a one-possession game. ... When it's a one possession game, you make a shot, you miss a shot; you get a call, you don't get a call, that's what happens. It's that close."

Since the summer, Carlesimo and the Sonics have emphasized getting better each day. The Sonics got better against the Jazz - much better.

"To be honest with you, if we play that way in April, I'll be proud," Carlesimo said. "We can't play a heck of a lot better than that. ... That's a good basketball team that played pretty well agianst us and we took all the way to the wire. That's a very good sign."

Here's complete postgame audio: Carlesimo Jeff Green Delonte West

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/8 vs. Utah

Earl Watson's 16 assists against the Jazz in the 122-114 Sonics OT victory on Jan. 12 tied the most a Sonics player has ever had against Utah. Previously, Gary Payton had 16 assists on Feb. 24, 1991 at the old Coliseum.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/7 vs. Memphis

Earl Watson Sonics guard Earl Watson still ranks fifth amongst the Grizzlies all-time leading assisters. Watson, who played in Memphis from 2002-05, handed out 986 assists in those three seasons.

Opposing View: 11/7 vs. Memphis

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Chris Herrington, who writes the Beyond the Arc blog as part of his coverage for the Memphis Flyer. Don't miss his Pre-Game Three-Pointer. Also check out's preview and the Memphis Commercial Appeal's look at the relationship between Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant.

Can we expect Marc Iavaroni to be more like his boss in Miami (Pat Riley) or his boss in Phoenix (Mike D'Antoni)?
That’s very much an open question at this point. Based on what Iavaroni has said to the media, stressed in practice, and tried to implement in games, he seems to be striving to be a blend of the two. From his tenure in Phoenix, he seems to have taken a few very specific things:

1. An emphasis on early offense, on looking for shoots before the defense is set. As an on-court reality, this is idea hasn’t totally taken hold. I suspect that the Griz’s potential growth as an up-tempo team will coincide with Michael Conley’s development at the point.

2. An interest in using small lineups, which, in Memphis, is dependent on the development of Rudy Gay as what Iavaroni calls a “Phoenix four” in the Shawn Marion mold.

3. An emphasis on three-point shooting.

4. A dislike of committing fouls.

On the other hand, Iavaroni has repeatedly said that he wants to emphasize defense first, though he doesn’t have great defensive personnel in Memphis and the team defense hasn’t looked very good so far. And, in the form of Pau Gasol, he has a more traditional post player at his disposal than he had in Phoenix.

At this point, the Griz have been at their best with two very different lineups: The big half-court-oriented starting lineup with two seven-footers (Gasol and Darko Milicic) in the paint, a 6-9 Gay at small forward and a 6-8 Mike Miller at shooting guard. But, in the preseason at least, the Griz tended to close-out or blow open games with a small-ball lineup that put Gasol at center and Gay as the “Phoenix four” power forward, with 6-3 Juan Carlos Navarro at shooting guard. (Gay’s foul trouble has precluded Iavaroni from using this lineup much in the first two regular season games.)

Whether these two very different lineup types continue to coexist equally or one becomes the team’s more dominant look seems totally up in the air, as the Grizzlies right now are a team — and Iavaroni a new head coach — still looking for an identity.

Five years from now, who is the starting point guard for Memphis: Mike Conley, Jr. or Kyle Lowry?
Conley, presumably. Iavaroni pushed for his selection with the fourth overall pick because Conley is the kind of speedy pure point guard Iavaroni envisions running his uptempo team. Lowry has the ability to be a quality starting point guard in the NBA, maybe as soon as this season, but he doesn’t have the court vision or playmaking ability that Conley has.

Iavaroni seems intent on taking his time with Conley, slotting him third on the depth chart to start the season and citing how long it took Steve Nash to develop, even after four years in college. But I haven’t seen anything from Conley or heard anything from Iavaroni to suggest Conley isn’t still considered the future at the point for this team.

What will this year say about Gay's future?
Gay is still only 21 and was thrown into a really bad situation a year ago, handed to a veteran-loving coach in Mike Fratello that didn’t want to play him, on a team that soon completely fell apart. So, this season is more like a second chance to properly develop Gay than some kind of final determinant on how good he can be.

That said, Gay needs to show strides this year — with his offensive decision-making and more consistent defensive and rebounding activity, primarily. The reasonable hope is that he starts looking like the team’s second best player by the end of the year. He’s definitely capable of that and will be helped greatly by being paired with more aggressive, uptempo point guards Lowry and Conley as the year wears on and Damon Stoudamire’s role recedes.

How about Darko?
The ghost of his workout hype and high draft selection still haunt Darko, but the Grizzlies aren’t paying him all-star money. They’re paying him quality-starting-center money, and that’s probably what the reasonable expectation should be: Rebound well, score efficiently, and, most importantly, provide a strong interior defensive presence.

Darko had a rough preseason, but in the first two regular-season games, when he’s been on the court (he’s been plagued by foul trouble as well) he’s done the job, probably playing better relative to expectation than any other Grizzlies player so far.

Freed from the burden of being expected to look like a future star and just asked to be an important role player on a deep team, the expectation is that Darko will be just that. If he can’t fill that more realistic role this season, then you have to doubt he ever will. The early returns are encouraging, though.

What don't we know (but should) about the Grizzles?
The playing-time controversy locally isn’t about Conley riding the pine (at least not yet), but about the elevation of new signee Casey Jacobsen as a widely-used reserve (playing 40 minutes through the first two games) while last season’s rookie surprise Tarence Kinsey (Western Conference Rookie of the Month in April) has been in street clothes on the inactive list. With Jacobsen not hitting threes at the rate he did in the preseason and the Grizzlies’ perimeter defense really struggling, Iavaroni’s favoring of new-regime-signee Jacobsen over previous-regime-find Kinsey is already provoking a lot of grumbling among those who follow the Griz closely.

UPDATE: Another look at tonight's game, this from Grizzlies blog Three Shades of Blue.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Opposing View: 11/6 at Sacramento

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we couldn't pick just one. Tom Ziller of is one of the finest bloggers writing about the NBA, while Andrew Nicholson does a great job covering the team for We got both of their responses to five questions about the Kings.

How happy are the Kings to see the friendly confines of ARCO Arena after starting the season with a three-game road trip?
NICHOLSON: I'll allow future All-Star Kevin Martin to answer this question:
"We're very excited to be home because the fans at ARCO Arena are the best in the league and they give us the extra energy we need."
ZILLER: I imagine quite happy. There may not be many three-game road swings tougher than New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas, and when you consider it kicked off the season for a team who played exactly one preseason game knowing it'd be without Mike Bibby, it was an impossible trip. Things aren't going to be infinitely better back at ARCO ... but playing Seattle at home on rest is a lot more palatable than driving into Dallas on a back-to-back.

How do the Kings replace Mike Bibby while he is sidelined?
NICHOLSON: You've surely heard this opening line before. The Kings cannot replace Mike Bibby's offensive output, on-court leadership or clutch late-game performances. To make up for his absence, the team will do their best by committee. Francisco Garcia and John Salmons have both stepped up their offensive efforts. Garcia is playing more in control which is important for his growth as a third-year player. On Saturday, he had just one turnover in 41 minutes and no turnovers in 27 minutes the night before.
Through three games, Garcia is averaging nearly 17 points and gathering two steals per contest. Salmons, meanwhile, is showcasing his multifaceted skill set by doing a little of everything. Salmons is making up for the assists lost with Bibby's left thumb surgery, by dishing out a team-high 6 assists per game. More impressively, Salmons is shooting 11 percent better this season (53 percent) than his career average (42 percent) and is second on the team in scoring. He's averaging 21 points per game which is a nice jump from his career average of six points per game.
ZILLER: The problem is they can't replace him on offense. Brad Miller and Kevin Martin basically haven't played without Mike for three years; it shows how valuable he is in the possession-to-possession grind without a post option, how good of a shot creator (often for himself) he has become. Reggie Theus doesn't seem to have any confidence in Orien Greene's abilities, which is unfortunate -- we can't judge OG on his performance when considering he's getting six-minute stints at best. Francisco Garcia can't simultaneously play rationally and defend with the type of passion and energy we're conditioned for, so it appears it may come down to Beno Udrih.

Kevin Martin: All-Star?
NICHOLSON: Yes, Kevin Martin will be an All-Star very soon. Right now, he is discovering what it means to be the focal point of the opposing team's scouting report. Through the process, he is experiencing a few growing pains without his favorite point guard (Bibby) and forward (Ron Artest) flanking him. Martin is well aware of the challenge at hand and is already adapting. He's confident, as are his teammates, that he'll flourish - whether he has one, two or three guys guarding him. When he proves he can dictate a game despite the opposition's efforts to shut him down, he'll be suiting up for the Western Conference in February.
ZILLER: Yes. He was on the edge last year, and Ray Allen has moved East. People talk all day about Michael Redd, who put up 27 points on 24 shots on Sunday. Kevin put up 28 points on 14 shots, people! He needs a distributing point guard and a post presence to alleviate some defensive pressure, but it's not like he isn't performing incredibly well without those aides.

What can we expect from Seattle native Spencer Hawes when he gets back on the court?
NICHOLSON: Opposing teams should expect a seven-footer that is a potent scorer and passer with either hand. Spencer's defense is respectable, contrary to the naysayers. The most notable element of his game is not a tangible one. His fire, as Coach Theus calls it, is merciless. The guy hates losing, has a tremendous passion for the game and plays with a sense of urgency. By the way (laugh), don't folks in Seattle know a little bit about the guy who spent his first 19 years in the Emerald City?!
ZILLER: The most improbable rejoicing from a once-skeptical but now deliriously desperate fan base. The front court of the Kings has looked so terrible, anything more than 10 points and four rebounds from Hawes would cause riotous cheers. One thing he showed at Washington and in summer league: He's not afraid to take a lot of shots. The Kings need that from a forward not named Kenny Thomas, certainly.

What don't we know but should about the Kings?
NICHOLSON: Coach Reggie Theus may be a first year head coach in the NBA, but he has quickly gained the players' respect. The Kings faced a tough road trip to open the season, but the team played hard throughout the three losses. Coach Theus brings intensity, accountability, unity and excitement back to the Kings.
ZILLER: Francisco Garcia and Quincy Douby are incredible shotblockers for their positions. Garcia has great make-up speed and he isn't afraid to hack a bit in the process of altering shots. And Douby is actually much stronger up top than he looks and infinitely longer than his body would suggest. Look for both guys coming off-ball to make a Sonics player or two sweat.

Thanks to both guys and be sure to check out's Q&As with Sonics swingmen Kevin Durant and Damien Wilkins and Assistant Coach Paul Westhead.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/6 at Sacramento

Tonight is Sacramento's home opener. The Sonics have been the opponent for three previous Kings home openers at ARCO Arena:

- 1988: Sonics 97, Sacramento 75. Dale Ellis scored 28 points in what is tied for the worst loss in a home opener for the Kings at ARCO.
- 1989: Sacramento 107, Sonics 100. Despite 24 points from Michael Cage.
- 2001: Sacramento 101, Sonics 95. Rashard Lewis missed the season opener for both teams.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Opposing View: 11/3 at L.A. Clippers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we turn to Clipperblog's Kevin Arnovitz, who follows the Clippers and the rest of the NBA with the keen eye of an analyst and incisive writing. For more on the Clippers, check out and's Pregame Report.

With Elton Brand out indefinitely, what do the Clippers have to do to return to the postseason?
With Brand on the shelf, a postseason berth is highly unlikely - but nothing's impossible. Mike Dunleavy prefers a structured offense, which makes sense with this squad. But preferring structure and maximizing it are two different things. With Brand absent, Dunleavy will have to find shots for a team that - Corey Maggette excepted - can't create its own.

Chris Kaman will have to perform nightly like he did in the opener Friday night against Golden State, when he went for 26 & 18. Maggette will get more shots and more points, but he'll have to maintain his trademark efficiency. With no Elton to feed on the left block, the graying platoon of Sam Cassell and Brevin Knight at the point will have to be creative. Cassell, Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas - the Clips' only pure shooters - will have to be more prolific than they were last season when the Clips finished near the bottom of the league from the perimeter. Finally, the Clippers will have to get something out of their heralded rookie, Al Thornton.

Brand's injury seems to put a lot more pressure on Kaman. Can he step up?
In the preseason and, again, Friday night, Kaman appeared more agile, more confident, and more focused than at any time last season, which is encouraging. And with Brand out, Kaman is the sole shot-blocker on the floor for the Clips, and will have to control the paint defensively for the Clippers.

Thornton is getting a lot of hype. What can we expect this season and beyond?
Thornton can take most NBA threes off the dribble and has a knack for finding the open driving lane [which explains his 53% shooting percentage at FSU in a tough defensive league]. He has a consistent shot from 20 feet and a lightning quick release. His defense needs some work, both on the rotation and against quicker forwards. Dunleavy seems determined to play the rookie at the PF against smaller opponents, and we've seen Thornton working on some post moves, something he didn't do - largely because he didn't have to - in college. Whether the Clippers can get him good looks in the halfcourt remains to be seen. Right now in the Clippers offense, Thornton often gets banished on the weak side with nothing much to do. Once he hones his instincts for the pro game, he'll learn how to fill space and get himself some looks off the ball.

Which of the 500 potential combinations on the wing (that's an approximation) do you prefer?
Ahhh, yes. I like Dunleavy's decision to start Quinton Ross & Maggette together. With Brand out, Maggette is truly the only player on the Clips' roster who can get a shot anytime he wants, which makes him indispensable. With Cassell at the point, the Clips desperately need a defensive patch on the perimeter, and Ross is as good as they come in that capacity. Cat Mobley might prove to be a solid second unit scorer - and more nights than not, he'll finish the game for the Clips at the two.

What's one thing we don't know but should about the Clippers?
Play-by-play man Ralph Lawler has broadcasted 2,200 games for the Clippers - over 1,600 of them consecutively. In any other market, he'd be regarded as one of the premier voices in the game, but in Los Angeles, he's existed in the long shadow of fellow Bradley U graduate, the late Chick Hearn. Ralph's amiable fatalism is an essential companion to every Clipper fan's slog through a season.

(Editor's Note: Wholeheartedly agreed on Lawler, who is one of the best in the business. He and Michael Smith are a joy to hear on League Pass. Plus, Lawler bears a striking resemblance to my grandfather.)

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/3 at L.A. Clippers

The Clippers have never in franchise history swept the season series with the Sonics. Last year, the teams split four matchups.

Friday, November 2, 2007

After Two Games, a Pause

Following their season-opening back-to-back against Denver and Phoenix, the Sonics took Friday off. They'll be back at The Furtado Center tomorrow to prepare to face the L.A. Clippers Sunday (12:30 p.m., KTTH 770 AM).

The day off gives us a chance to look back on the last two nights. In the Sonics and Storm business offices, the buzz was about how much fun was had on Opening Night. The result wasn't what people were hoping for, but the Sonics played very well and stared down a Phoenix team that could easily win the championship for all but the final couple of minutes of the game.

We've talked a lot about developing each day and constant improvement. The Sonics haven't been good enough to win their first two games, but they have made strides from where they were at the end of the preseason. Considering today is one month from the Oct. 2 start of training camp, it's impressive how far this team has come.

That will pay off.

"When we play that hard it’s going to be rewarded," P.J. Carlesimo said after the game, "maybe not in the first game against Denver, maybe not the second night against Phoenix, but our guys did a lot of things well. We still have a lot of things we need to work on and execute on the floor. I’m really pleased with our effort, just disappointed with the result."

A couple other notes:

- Chris Wilcox's game last night (23 points, 11 rebounds) showed what he is capable of in this system. He has developed his post game this season.

- Johan Petro has taken advantage of the chance to play extended minutes the first two games with two other centers out of the lineup. He had 10 boards in Denver, six points and six boards against Phoenix.

- Give credit to Luke Ridnour for being ready to play last night, even though he is not in the rotation right now. Ridnour gave the Sonics a good run off the bench in the second quarter.

- Last night's game was really a good defensive effort, as I emphasized at halftime in Live From the Press Box. Phoenix's Offensive Rating was 103.7, which is very poor by the high standards set by the Suns.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Opposing View: 11/1 vs. Phoenix

Throughout the season, Sonics Beat will ask five key questions about that evening's matchup of a team site writer, blogger or other expert on the opposing squad. Tonight, we kick it off with Brad G. Faye representing the team at

What are the expectations for the Suns this year? How paramount is a championship as a goal?
Adding Grant Hill to a team which won 61 games last season, the expectations are again to help the organization to its first-ever NBA championship. However, as we’ve learned these past few seasons, in order to win a title a lot of things have to fall your way – some of which you have no control over. The best you can do is put a quality product on the floor and the Suns have done that.

What can Sonics fans expect from Kurt Thomas?
I'm going to avoid the obvious in terms of Kurt's work ethic and his leadership ability. Kurt is a funny guy whose company is always appreciated, be it with teammates, coaches or the media. He also doesn’t hesitate to tell it like it is, which is an overlooked attribute.

How much will Phoenix's off-season changes, including the loss of Thomas and the addition of Hill, change the team?
You can never argue that losing a player like Thomas is a good thing. Hill, however, brings in that same positive attitude and leadership that Thomas provided these past couple of seasons. Hill, however, is also a better fit for Mike D'Antoni's system. He not only runs the floor well but is very underrated in terms of his decision-making ability. With each practice, Hill continues to show why he could be headed to another All-Star appearance come February.

Amare Stoudemire hit a three-pointer in the preseason against the Sonics. Has he really added that to his game? Any signs he will be slowed at all by the arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent?
Following their playoff elimination last season, STAT was the first guy in the gym looking to improve his game. He's shown an ability to knock down the outside shot so far during practice, but only time will tell how that translates to actual game action. As far as the knee surgery, Stoudemire has always answered questions with his play on the court and this season will be no different. Having played a full season now with guys like Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, he could be better than the All-NBA First Team player we saw last season.

What's one thing we don't know about the Suns?
You may want to sit down for this, but the Suns actually play defense. From a team standpoint, Steve Nash is a very underrated defender. He can cause point guards to make bad decisions which allows players like Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa to ignite the fast break. We’re not arguing the Suns are among the greatest defensive teams of all time, but keep in mind when you’re scoring points as quickly as they do, you’re bound to give the opponent a lot of possessions. The more possessions an opponent has, it seems only logical they’re going to put some points up on the board as well.

Kia Surprising Stat: 11/1 vs. Phoenix

The Sonics are 26-14 all-time on Opening Night, including 9-3 at KeyArena.