Monday, December 31, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/31 vs. Philadelphia

The Sonics have played on New Year's Eve each of the last three years and will host a game on New Year's Eve for the third straight year tonight. The Sonics are 2-1 in those games, 1-1 at home, and 2-2 all-time on New Year's Eve. Their only Dec. 31 game before the last three years came in the inaugural 1967-68 season, when the Sonics lost 40 years ago tonight in San Francisco, 126-124.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

D-League Update: 12/30/07

Mouhamed SeneTime to check in on Mouhamed Sene in the D-League, where he is playing for the Idaho Stampede.

Assigned to Idaho a week ago, Sene has played three games - all of them Stampede victories. Idaho has won five straight games to improve to 10-5, which leads the Western Division and ranks second in the D-League overall.

Against Bakersfield on Wednesday, Sene scored eight points and had four rebounds. On Friday, he played a season-high 31 minutes and blocked seven shots, scoring nine points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Last night, in the second straight matchup with Anaheim, Sene had his best offensive game - 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 5-of-6 from the free-throw line - and added eight boards.

Sene's averages: 11.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game on 63.2% shooting.

UPDATE: This is great. Listen to the call of Sene blocking not one, not two but three shots on one possession on Saturday. Thanks to Mark Snider, the Stampede's play-by-play broadcaster, for passing that along.

Also, it's worth noting that you can watch Stampede home games live or on-demand through the team's Web site.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/29 vs. Minnesota

When the Timberwolves defeated Indiana 131-118 last Friday, it was not only the second-highest point total in franchise history but also the most points Minnesota had surrendered in a victory since Feb. 17, 1992, in a 124-122 OT win over Houston.

TrueHoop on Team Sites

Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold, guest-blogging on TrueHoop this week, had a post today on the evolving role of team sites I wanted to direct people towards - not because SUPERSONICS.COM and this blog get a lengthy mention. Well, OK, not just because of that.

Seriously, it's a great post by Kurt on a development that has caused me to take notice. Several more sites have added full-time writers, like Matt McQueeny in New Jersey and Art Garcia (formerly of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram) in Dallas. Other sites are, like us, making greater use of video and other multimedia to tell stories in new, interesting ways.

I hope the Opposing View pregame features have helped give readers an idea of the fine content that is appearing on official sites across the league.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Opposing View: 12/27 vs. Boston

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Peter Stringer of Celtics.com stops by to chat about the league's fastest-starting team. Check out Celtics.com's preview of tonight's game.

The Celtics blogosphere was thriving before the team's record caught up. CelticsBlog is empire as much as blog at this point, a true leader. Other fine blogs include Celtics17, Celtics 24/7, Full Court Press and Red's Army.

Now on to Peter's answers. The following opinions are those of the author only and do not necessarily represent those of the Boston Celtics.

Can you describe the kind of emotional roller coaster Celtics fans have been on over the past 12 months?
In the span of just a few months, we went from the lowest of lows on Draft Lottery night to the highest of highs when the Kevin Garnett deal was finalized. We’d spent all spring thinking about what a guy like Kevin Durant would look like alongside Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson and Delonte West, and suddenly we’re thinking that we got stuck with the worst possible outcome with the #5 pick in the draft. Of course, we know now that without that twist of fate we wouldn’t be talking about the Celtics as an instant title contender. The NBA moves in mysterious ways. ...

To me, the most surprising aspect of the fast start for the Celtics has been the team's defense. Where does the credit go for the league's stingiest defense?
It all starts with KG, who’s easily the best defender I’ve ever seen in a Celtics uniform. I’m too young to have watched Bill Russell, but Garnett’s impact can not be overstated. He might be the best big in the league at defending the pick-and-roll, the basic staple of NBA offense. But perhaps more important than any X-and-O execution is the intensity and credibility KG brings to the table. There’s a culture of defense and accountability that started on Day 1 of Training Camp in Rome, and you get the real sense that it comes from KG’s presence. Additionally, Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau is one of the most hands-on assistants in the league and is very particular about what he expects on the floor. The team has bought in to a defensive philosophy and it’s paid off.

The bench has also exceeded expectations. How?
People questioned this team’s depth before the season, but if anything the bench has shown that it can not only protect a lead but extend it. Doc Rivers leaves either Ray Allen or Paul Pierce on the floor at all times to play with the second unit, so there’s never a dearth of scoring. But the biggest key to me is that guys have accepted and embraced their roles on the bench, and that comes from having veteran guys who know exactly how they can be most effective. Young players typically want to prove that they should be starting, whereas veterans seem to focus on just doing what they do best when called upon.

Since there have been so many lopsided wins this season, is Boston still learning how to play in close games?
Critics will point to the home loss to the Pistons and say that the Celtics can’t win a close game, and to be fair, that was probably the only game this year where the team appeared to lose its composure at times during the second half. But this team is loaded with veterans who know how to execute and in the NBA, games come down to execution more often than not. And the best part about blowing teams out is that our starters have been able to play short minutes on several occasions, allowing them to come into the second half of back-to-back games well rested.

What don't we know about the Celtics but should?
This team is really just scratching the surface. Rajon Rondo is flourishing in just his second year in the league, and he’s been given the keys to a Maserati. He’s still learning how to handle the role, but he’s quietly gone about his business and is starting to become a real floor general. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins continues to improve while playing alongside Garnett, and Tony Allen could be a force in the second half of the season when he gets past the mental aspect of recovering from his second knee surgery. Glen Davis needs to be more consistent, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance in the first two months of the season; he knows how to rebound and use his body in the paint despite being undersized.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/27 vs. Boston

With their next win, the Boston Celtics will tie their 24-win total from the entire 2006-07 season.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/25 at Portland

When the Sonics visit Portland on Tuesday, it will be the first time the team has played on Christmas in 13 years and just the second in the last 25 years. While the NBA now reserves the holiday for nationally-televised tilts, once upon a time games on Christmas were commonplace. The Sonics have played 10 total in franchise history ... and they're still looking for their first win.

Dec. 25, 1967 - 118-112 loss at Cincinnati
Dec. 25, 1968 - 118-112 loss at Baltimore
Dec. 25, 1971 - 116-86 loss at Phoenix
Dec. 25, 1972 - 116-113 loss at Portland
Dec. 25, 1976 - 110-95 loss at Portland
Dec. 25, 1977 - 111-96 loss vs. Los Angeles
Dec. 25, 1978 - 123-118 loss vs. San Diego
Dec. 25, 1981 - 99-94 loss at Portland
Dec. 25, 1982 - 95-88 loss at Portland
Dec. 25, 1994 - 105-96 loss at Denver

In part because of their four previous head-to-head matchups, the Blazers have an excellent history on Christmas, going 11-1 and winning their last 11 games scheduled for Dec. 25.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/21 vs. Toronto

The Raptors are attempting tonight to earn their 16th win faster chronologically than ever before in franchise history. Twice, including in 1999-00 when they also started 16-12, their 16th win has come on Dec. 28.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sonics Q&A: Jeff Green

Jeff GreenSonics rookie Jeff Green was one of the standouts in Wednesday night's game, helping lead a rally with his energy. Green also dished out a career-high five assists. He spoke with Sonics Beat about bringing energy off the bench and more.

How do you see your role in terms of energy?
I come in, do things on defense to try to create mismatches, just go out there and play hard. That's all the coach asks me to do and I'm going to go out there and do it to the best of my abilities.

How is coming off the bench different than starting in the NCAA?
You're just not playing 40 minutes like in college. Now you've got to find a new role. That's just something you have to adapt to. It's the same game - 10 players on the court, one ball. You've got to go out there and play. However many minutes I get, that's what I'm going to go out there and do.

How is your role different?
At Georgetown, the ball was in my hands most of the time. Now, you've got other guys who can help you out and score. I'm going to go out there and do the best I can. I don't have the same role I did at Georgetown; now, it's a much different role. A lot more is expected in terms of bringing energy and defending some of the toughest guys on the court. That's what the coach asks me to do to get minutes; that's what I'm going to do.

It seems like the bench has gotten going as the rotation has become more consistent. Does that make sense?
I think at the beginning of the season, not knowing when you were going to in, who you were going to go in for, was kind of a setback to us. Now that we know kind of how the rotation is going to be, we're getting more and more comfortable together, going out there on the court knowing who's going to be out there with you.

Have you adapted your game to the NBA so far? What have you learned about the league?
I don't think so. I feel like I'm playing the same way. It's just that some games I don't get as many minutes as I used to, but if coach sees that as a mismatch and he feels like one spot is going good, that's what he's going to roll with, I'm happy with that as long as we win. I feel like I've been learning a lot playing behind Kurt Thomas. He teaches me a lot. He teaches me things to look for, things to make my game better. That's a big help. Some rookies don't have that coming in. By him teaching me right now, I think it will help me in the long run of my career.

Good Practice for Sonics

The Sonics returned to the practice court Thursday after an effort against the New Orleans Hornets that disappointed Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. He liked what he saw Thursday much better.

"We had a good practice," said Carlesimo, who saw all 14 players make free throws consecutively to finish off the session. "We'll see if we have a good shootaround tomorrow, but we'll see at 7:30 tomorrow whether we do or don't (bounce back). We'll find out if there's anything to the first game back or Chris Paul or whatever it was."

Carlesimo had suggested after Wednesday's game that changes were possible in the future because the Sonics have gotten off to some slow starts at times recently.

"This group has done alright, record-wise, but if we start out this way again, we either have to shorten up rotations or look to change combinations or do something," he said. "First quarter and third quarter have not been good to us all year."

After that, Carlesimo mostly commented on features various writers are working on, but made an interesting digression to discuss the importance of confidence in general and for his team.

"Confidence is such a huge thing. It's a huge thing in everything, but in athletics it's unbelievable," Carlesimo said, pointing to the role of confidence in the inconsistent performances of golfers.

In the NBA, it's easier for teams who have enjoyed consistent success to maintain that level of confidence.

"With us, because we haven't had as much success as we need to have, we tend to go that way," Carlesimo said. "When we're feeling good about ourselves and we're out there and we're bouncy and everything, we look like a totally different team than we looked like last night. I just think if you're the Suns or Dallas or the Spurs and out of 25 games you do that 18 or 20 times, then you can put the first quarter or six bad minutes out of your mind and play good. But when you've gone the other way 15 times out of 25, it's really hard to fight through it.

"That's not why we played the way we played last night, but it is why we can do the peak and valley thing. ... At times, we've looked pretty good, but at other times we've looked really poor and the gap between our good and poor is bigger than it needs to be or should be."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Opposing View: 12/19 vs. New Orleans

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Jim Eichenhofer of Hornets.com joins us today to talk about New Orleans. Hornets.com has an interview up with Sonics rookie Jeff Green. Also check out the blog Hornets247.com.

Is it fair to start talking about Chris Paul as an MVP candidate?
Personally, I think it’s probably a little too early to be debating the annual NBA awards, such as MVP and Coach of the Year. We’re only 25 games into the season and so much can change around the league in a week’s time, let alone four months from now, when the votes will be cast for those honors. With that said, though, if you go to NBA.com’s “Race to the MVP” feature, they have Chris ranked fifth, behind only Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. That’s mighty impressive company and indicates the respect that he’s received for his performance early in the 2007-08 season. Short-term, I’d love to see Chris make his first All-Star Game appearance, especially with the game being played here in New Orleans.

Have the Hornets been pleasantly surprised by Tyson Chandler over the last season-plus, or was it anticipated he would anchor the middle as he has?
I don’t think anyone could tell you with a straight face that they thought Chandler would be this effective after his trade from Chicago. I know I didn’t. His fifth and final season with the Bulls in 2005-06 was the worst of his NBA career, one he described as “embarrassing.” Expectations from the New Orleans coaching staff were pretty high for him when he arrived, but he has exceeded what many believed he would do. He finished as the second-leading rebounder in the league last season and is averaging 11.6 points now. When he came over last summer I thought if he averaged about eight points, I would gladly take it. That sounds like a very modest goal – but not when you consider his scoring average of only 5.3 in his final year in Chicago.

How important is it for the Hornets to see the youngsters on their bench step forward?
For the future of the team, it’s extremely important, but recent injuries have made the youngsters’ development critical to the club’s immediate success as well. Lottery picks Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright both received only sporadic playing time early in the regular season, but are now every-game members of the rotation. Injuries to Melvin Ely (fractured eye socket) and Ryan Bowen (sprained knee) have led to Armstrong being the only big man available off Byron Scott’s bench in some games. Meanwhile, the absences of Peja Stojakovic (strained groin muscle) and Morris Peterson – who’s now back in the mix – meant significantly more minutes for Wright. Both young players have shown glimpses of their potential at times, but we’re talking about a 20-year-old rookie in Wright and a developing center in Armstrong whose appearance on the KeyArena hardwood will be just his 80th career NBA game.

How is the team different with Peja Stojakovic in the lineup?
I think Chris Paul put it best recently when he was talking about the impact of Peja Stojakovic. Paul says that the veteran small forward has such a tremendous league-wide reputation for his shooting ability, even if he’s missed 20 consecutive three-point attempts, opposing teams still won’t leave him unguarded. You always expect his next shot to go down. The respect he receives from defenses helps spread the floor for Paul and the other Hornets. To me, one of the biggest differences between this year’s club and the one that went 39-43 in 2006-07 is the presence of Stojakovic and Peterson. The Hornets went from one of the poorest perimeter shooting teams in the NBA to one of the best.

What don't we know about the Hornets but should?
That the players are committed to doing everything possible to re-connect with fans here in New Orleans, as the city continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Morris Peterson signed with the Hornets partly because of the opportunity he saw at this point in the city’s history – to do something greater than just play basketball. I’ve heard multiple members of the team talk about how incredible it would be if the Hornets could approach the impact that the NFL’s New Orleans Saints made on people here during their 2006 run to the NFC title game.

The players know there are many ways they can use their position as professional athletes to help New Orleans. On the court, they would love to bring playoff basketball to the Big Easy for the first time since 2004. Off the court, they’re involved in a multitude of projects. The players are excited about many less-publicized efforts to make an impact in the lives of local children. Meanwhile, Chandler is donating $100 for each rebound he grabs this season to our Hoops for Homes program. That money is devoted to helping schoolteachers defray the costs of re-building and repairing their homes, eliminating one of the obstacles some face during their decision-making process of whether or not to return to the Gulf South region.

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/19 vs. New Orleans

The Sonics prefer the late week. They are 7-5 in games played on either Wednesday or Friday this season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sonics Return to Practice at Furtado

Having returned to Seattle following their road trip, the Seattle SuperSonics took two days off Sunday and Monday before regrouping Tuesday for their first practice at The Furtado Center in nearly two weeks.

"The last 49 or 50 days, I think we had five days off," explained Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. "They're tired and we played that way (in Utah). I thought two days off would be good. We have a couple of guys a little bit dinged up and a couple of guys coming back. It just seemed two days off was more beneficial."

On a 2-3 road trip, the Sonics saw the team continue to come together. Point guard was a particular strong point of the trip, with Earl Watson and a healthy Luke Ridnour forming an effective combination.

"I thought they played very well," said Carlesimo. "I thought the combination was a good combination for us - some games better than others, but they had a couple of really, really strong games and in general I thought they did a really good job."

Ridnour told reporters he still has yet to reach 100% in coming back from his torn quad muscle, but he's feeling much better and Carlesimo sees that in his performance.

"Luke looks much more comfortable now in terms of his shot," Carlesimo said, "whereas early in the year when he'd missed a month and been back for three games, he wasn't shooting it the way he is capable of shooting it. Right now, I don't think he's 100%, but he's probably in better basketball shape and timing than he's been since the Sacramento game at the beginning of the year, that first exhibition game."

Now, the Sonics are looking to get Delonte West healthy. West visited a specialist and Dr. Richard Zorn, the Sonics team doctor, on Tuesday to get an update on the plantar fasciitis he's experienced in his right foot. West has been cleared to begin individual work.

"He's doing more today and tomorrow than he has been doing, so it's (his expected return) moved up a little bit," explained Carlesimo, "but he's not going to play in a game before he's done some live practicing. He hasn't played in two weeks, so he'll need at least one practice, if not more, before he's ready to go."

Carlesimo mentioned that West may see time at shooting guard when he returns to the lineup. West, who can play either position in the backcourt, has virtually exclusively played point guard this season, in part because of Ridnour's absence.

As for center Kurt Thomas, who missed Saturday's game in Utah with a sprained right ankle, he did not practice but Carlesimo described his status for Wednesday's matchup with New Orleans as, "'Hopeful' - I don't know if that's one of the categories. I think more probable than doubtful, but somewhere in there."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sonics & Storm Shopping Spree


Eight Sonics players (including Damien Wilkins), two assistant coaches, members of the Sonics Dance Team, Squatch and a number of Sonics & Storm employees descended upon the West Seattle Target Monday afternoon. They were there to assist less fortunate families who were given a shopping spree at Target funded by the Sonics & Storm Foundation and Kia Motors America. The players and other volunteers served as personal shoppers to help the families find what they wanted.

Here, Wilkins helps one youngster pick out a bike. He found one he liked as well.

Check back with SUPERSONICS.COM tomorrow for more photos and more on the event.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/15 at Utah

After last night's win in Minnesota, the Sonics are now 4-4 this season in games where they've turned the ball over 20 times or more ... not that P.J. Carlesimo is going to be encouraging the team to turn it over.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Opposing View: 12/14 at Minnesota

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Mike Trudell from Timberwolves.com shares his answers. The official site of the Wolves has a video scouting report on the Sonics with Assistant Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the son of former Sonics head coach Bernie. There's also plenty of blogs : Check out Britt Robson's analysis at On the Ball, TWolvesBlog.com and WolvesWatch.

What did Monday's win over Phoenix say about how the Timberwolves are coming along in their development?
What the Timberwolves want to see more than anything are steady signs of growth. Sure, winning more games would be nice, but with nine guys under the age of 25 - most of whom haven't played together before this year - it's been particularly difficult for the Wolves to close out close games against veteran teams. At the same time, the Wolves have exhibited the kind of fight that keeps them in nearly every contest, and that's what happened against Phoenix. Minnesota battled for 48 minutes, and for once, made more plays down the stretch. The Wolves have also played the Spurs, Nuggets and Mavericks tough, which hopefully is a sign of things to come.

How has Al Jefferson responded to being "the guy" in Minnesota?
Most simply, he's responded by being one of five guys in the NBA to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. Well ... you have to round up tonight, because he's at 19.9. Just give it to us, OK? But like we've been saying here all year, Jefferson is even better than Kevin McHale and Randy Wittman thought he was when they traded for him. His basketball instincts are unreal - much like your own Kevin Durant - as he just finds different ways to score the basketball. But even better, he's a great kid who loves the game and is eager to improve on a daily basis; He likes being "the guy," and has shown his shoulders to be sturdy enough to form the foundation for a franchise.

Craig Smith had a lot of success against the Sonics last season. Is it safe to say the entire league is seeing that same performance now?
That's definitely safe to say. Craig Smith - we call him the Rhino - is a freaking beast. You folks in Seattle witnessed this first-hand last year when he dropped a career-high 26 points in Key Arena on Jan. 26. However, he lost about 14 pounds over the summer, worked on several aspects of his game and just in this last week has truly emerged like many thought the would. The reason it didn't happen earlier in the season is that Smith sprained his ankle (twice), so he didn't have the same confidence he's now showing in aggressively getting to the rim, or pulling up early with a patented floater. Seriously, check out his floater tonight: It has to be in the league's top two or three, up there with Tony Parker. But it's true, against smaller teams like Phoenix, Atlanta and (potentially) Seattle, Smith is particularly effective.

What have the Timberwolves rookies shown this season?
Corey Brewer and Chris Richard have shown that there's a reason why Florida won back-to-back championships. Both do several things very well. Brewer pulled down 18 rebounds against the Hawks - from the small forward position - and has been terrific defensively and in transition. He's struggled offensively as he builds confidence in his shooting, but the positive things he does on the floor more than outweigh that aspect, and as a result he's been starting. Richard is one of those players who just always does something positive for your team: grab a tough defensive rebound, tip a ball in on the offensive end, take a charge, rotate on defense ... He's been a great value for a second rounder, much like Craig Smith was last season.

What don't we know but should about the Timberwolves?
That our mascot Crunch is actually a real wolf. For real. Watch the game Friday night, you'll see. ... And if you wanted a serious answer, fourth-year guard Sebastian Telfair, who for no really good reason was written off nationally in several publications, has been absolutely outstanding this season. One stat for you: In his last two games, Telfair's tallied 21 assists to just three turnovers.

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/14 at Minnesota

Sonics swingman Wally Szczerbiak remains amongst the all-time leaders for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Szczerbiak, who played in Minnesota for the first six and a half seasons of his NBA career, is third in career scoring (6,777), fifth in field-goal percentage (.500), second in three-pointers (343) and three-point percentage (.404), fifth in rebounds (1,932) and fourth in games played (336).

Bonus Surprising Stat: Timberwolves play-by-play broadcaster Alan Horton spent last year as the producer for Sonics Radio and called play-by-play for the Seattle Storm. However, because he produced games from the KTTH studios, this will be the first Sonics game he's ever seen in person.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Opposing View: 12/12 at New York

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we get another NBA blog veteran in Mike Kurylo of KnickerBlogger.net. And while we're talking KnickerBlogger, don't forget to check out their stats page daily for the latest advanced metrics.

Has the off-court drama surrounding the Knicks affected the team on the court?
No. A lot of teams/players have gone through trials as bad or worse (Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis) with little to no effect.

The main thing to take from the "drama" is that it's a window into the franchise. Often the inner workings of a team are hidden from public view, and revealed only to the workers and a few privileged reporters. With this airing of dirty laundry we get to see a bit of what goes on behind the curtains at MSG, and it's not pretty. Organizations are run from the top down, and an owner doesn't need to be a basketball guru to be successful. You only need to look at how Mark Cuban turned around a bad Dallas franchise to witness how true this is.

What has Seattle native Nate Robinson done this season?
Not much, and it's a shame. For some reason Robinson has earned his way in the coach's doghouse. It's unofficial of course, as just about everything that surrounds MSG these days. Thomas seemed high on Robinson prior to the start of the season. Nate won MVP of the summer league, and Isiah said he was the hardest working player in practice. So it was reasonable to believe that Nate would exceed the 21 mpg he received his first two seasons.

However, once the season started, Nate's court time was inconsistent. He had a three-minute game, surrounded by two 20+-minute ones. After the humiliating loss in Boston, Robinson inexplicably racked up two DNPs. Since then he's only surpassed double digit minutes once. It seems that Robinson has joined the rest of the Knicks youth wasting on the end bench.

Can Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph thrive together, or are their skillsets too similar?
I can't imagine how because they are both horrible defenders. Although they don't exactly complement each other, they can coexist on offense. Randolph can extend his game outward, and it's hard for teams to lock down just one with their best defender. It's not an ideal situation since neither is a good passer, but it's workable. But on the other end of the court it's a disaster. Curry can't defend any center that can hit a jump shot from more than 15 feet, while Randolph has blocked two shots in 17 games. A team could live with one bad defender in the frontcourt, but not with two.

The pair have so many weaknesses that it's easy for other teams to score. This weekend Reggie Evans and Samuel Dalembert schooled the pair. Ideally you would want to limit how many minutes they are on the court at the same time, and flank them with good defenders at other positions. Maybe if you zone it up you can mask their defensive deficiencies. But thrive is not a term to describe the two.

You argued recently against the notion that the Knicks are inconsistent, but looking at some solid wins and being blown out by 45 one night before winning the next, is it fair to say you don't know what to expect from them on a given night?
That's true of any bad team. Minnesota beat Phoenix last week, so you could say the same about them. The Knicks are no different - they're a bad team and they're more likely to start the fourth quarter down by 15 than be competitive most nights. But a blind squirrel. ...

What don't we know but should about the Knicks?
I bet there is a decent team on that roster, but it's unlikely that we'll see it without a coaching change. The Knicks have a lot of young talent wasting away at the end of the bench: Robinson, Wilson Chandler, Randolph Morris and Mardy Collins. And that's not including the under utilization of David Lee and Renaldo Balkman. But don't worry - you probably won't see those guys. Be ready for a lot of Curry, Randolph, Quentin Richardson, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford.

For the keen observer of the game watch for:
* How often Eddy Curry is double teamed on the blocks and shoots instead of looking for the open man.
* How often Zach Randolph gets beaten in transition.
* How good David Lee is at the small things.
* How Renaldo Balkman is all over the court (especially grabbing a rebound and starting the break).
* How much Nate Robinson has matured since his college days (if he plays...)

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/12 at New York

During Sunday's game at New Orleans, three Sonics pulled down at least 10 rebounds (Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox has 12 apiece, while Kurt Thomas had 10). The last time the Sonics had three double-figures rebounders was Dec. 16, 2003 at Phoenix, when Antonio Daniels (10), Rashard Lewis (13) and Vladimir Radmanovic (14) accomplished the feat.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Opposing View: 12/11 at Chicago

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Matt Bernhardt of Blog-a-Bull talks Chicago. Dating back to his days as BullsBlogger, Bernhardt is one of the longest-running NBA bloggers. "Blog-a-Bull is in many ways the patron-saint of basketball blogging," says no less an authority than TrueHoop's Henry Abbott.

Thank You Isiah is another terrific Bulls blog, as is Only the Bulls. I also suggest this from the Seattle P-I: Chicago freelancer Brett Ballantini looks at the Bulls shooting woes.

What's your response to Hollinger's breakdown of the slow start for the Bulls?
Well it wasn't exactly groundbreaking, but it hammered the point home: Basically Hollinger went down the Bulls roster and pointed out that nearly every individual player had a lower PER than the season before, and in some cases much lower. That surely made clear *how* the Bulls were so bad, but not exactly*why*. I think the that's because the truth is there is no reasonable reason why. Aside from Ben Wallace and Joe Smith (who's actually performing to his standard) this team is full of players that should be progressing, not regressing.

What makes this different from past slow starts by Chicago?
First of all, the normal excuses of previous starts aren't applicable: the Bulls weren't assimilating a bunch of new talent, and the annual dreaded 'Circus Trip' to the west coast didn't include the Texas teams and was relatively mild. To make things worse, they were not just losing but getting blown out. That hadn't happened in previous seasons.

How have injuries affected Ben Wallace?
Let's hope it was just early-season injuries, as Ben has been better the past couple weeks. But he'll still throw in a dud now and then, and Bulls fans are starting to come to terms with knowing he'll have his good games and bad. He's not as quick and able to roam defensively, and on offense he'll never be a shooter but he at least used to be able to finish around the rim. This season even the iron's blocked his shot.


How long can Kirk Hinrich possibly shoot this bad?
Hopefully it isn't the case where last season was his peak in terms of shooting, although even as a disappointing shooter his first couple years in the league, he has never been this bad. Compounding matters is a dramatic increase in turnovers, which is unacceptable considering he's not much of a playmaker and stays a solid point guard by not making the types of dumb decisions he has been this season. I think he'll be fine, but even fine is disappointing considering that last season looked like a breakthrough.

What don't we know about the Bulls but should?
Doesn't everybody know? They need a low-post scorer! They need a superstar! ... I suppose what people might not know is that this isn't a case where the same old problems (that a Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol could fix)are keeping the Bulls from consistent success: this season has displayed a whole new (and damaging) set of issues. The Bulls had the point differential of a 55-win team last year, and after bringing nearly everyone back, mostly those with another year under their belts and something to prove, it's extremely unsettling to see how bad they've performed this season. Things have gone so bad, however, that it makes it easier to deem it a fluke. And when that anomaly is righted, they can get to acquiring that missing piece.

Kia Suprising Stat: 12/11 at Chicago

Before getting swept by the Bulls last season, the Sonics had Chicago's number in recent seasons. Their loss at the United Center almost exactly a year ago (Dec. 13, 2006) snapped an eight-game Sonics winning streak in Chicago, and the Sonics swept the Bulls head-to-head three of the last five seasons.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Couple Odds and Ends on a Monday

- The NBA is celebrating its history with "Heritage Week" now through next Monday, including some neat stuff on the .com. I really enjoyed the missing Rookie Rankings from Dec. 10, 1984, topped by some young shooting guard named Michael Jordan.

Incidentally, the Sonics did not have a first-round pick in 1984, having dealt it to San Diego (that's the Clippers, BTW) as part of the deal that brought Tom Chambers to Seattle.

- I thought this was interesting. Looking at our photos on Getty Images last week, I came across a bunch of photos featuring the Sonics against Minnesota. Sorta. Actually, it was the Idaho Stampede playing the Sioux Falls Skyforce. It was Timberwolves Affiliate Night in Sioux Falls, with Minnesota-themed game entertainment, and the Stampede donned Sonics uniforms as well. Sonics Affiliate Night in Boise is scheduled for Jan. 4. Here's Ricky Sanchez of Idaho pulling down a board.
(Dick Carlson/NBAE/Getty)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Opposing View: Dec. 9 at New Orleans

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Jim Eichenhofer does a great job of covering New Orleans for Hornets.com and answered our five questions. I returned the favor, answering five questions on the Sonics. Also see Jim's preview of today's game. In addition, see the fine Hornets247.com blog for more on the Hornets.

What is the mood around the Hornets given their strong start?
The team is very encouraged by the way the season has started. The Hornets essentially had to incorporate two new starters into their lineup this season, shooting guard Morris Peterson and small forward Peja Stojakovic. Peterson signed as a free agent from Toronto, while Stojakovic was on the roster last season, but missed the final 69 games due to a back injury. If you add in a couple new pieces off the bench, most people didn’t expect New Orleans to start so quickly, but a 9-2 start was the best-ever in franchise history. On the flip side, right now we’re awaiting word on the injury status of both players, who left Friday’s game vs. Memphis early. Peterson (strained back muscle) and Stojakovic (strained groin muscle) were critical to the team’s impressive November.

How good is Chris Paul? How good can he become?
Paul has drawn rave reviews throughout his three-year career for his all-around play, but there was one part of his game that had seemed to lag a little bit. His perimeter shooting has been questioned, especially after he shot just 28 percent from the three-point line as a rookie. Well, I’m sure SuperSonics fans who watched SportsCenter on Friday saw what Chris did against the Grizzlies: He poured in a career-high 43 points, including a career-best five three-pointers on seven attempts. Paul scored 29 points after halftime in what was easily the best offensive game as a pro.

He was already one of the best passing point guards in the league, but he’s now shown an even greater ability to take over games offensively when warranted. With Peterson and Stojakovic out, he put the game on his shoulders. He appears to be on his way to an All-Star season and if you look at his shooting percentages, he has been almost Steve Nash-like, at 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 92 percent from the foul line.

What kind of difference has a healthy Stojakovic made?
He and Peterson have given Paul two more options to rely on in the halfcourt offense. The Hornets lost several close games in 2006-07 on the road when they came up empty during crunch time and struggled to find a reliable shooter. This season, Stojakovic has already made a game-saving three-pointer vs. Dallas and connected on a franchise-record 10 three-pointers in a victory at the Lakers. New Orleans ranked 22nd in the league in three-pointers made last season, but is up to seventh this season.

The Hornets defense hasn't necessarily gotten a lot of attention, but ranks in the NBA's top five. What's the key to the D?
I think it starts with Tyson Chandler, who uses his 7-foot-1 frame and wingspan to alter and block shots on a regular basis. Several of our guards have remarked that it’s much easier to play defense when they know they have Tyson watching their backs. Two seasons ago, prior to Chandler’s arrival, the Hornets had no legitimate shot-blockers, which was evident when opposing teams got to the basket with little resistance. Plus, Paul has been very disruptive, leading the league in steals per game and steals per 48 minutes.

From a team standpoint, the Hornets seem to have quickly meshed and have rotated very well to open shooters.

What don't we know but should about the Hornets?
That this is a quality group of guys who handled the forced relocation of the team to Oklahoma City over incredibly well. They also continue to “get it” in terms of understanding their role in helping the city of New Orleans revitalize itself two years after Hurricane Katrina.

As an organization, we have devoted an extraordinary amount of time to making our full-time return to New Orleans a successful one, including participating in a staggering number of community events and “grassroots marketing” initiatives that I believe may be unprecedented in the NBA. The great thing is, as we try to re-establish ourselves in the Big Easy, we have a group of players who are very good-natured and down-to-earth people. Add that to the fact that the club is off to a 13-7 start, and we feel there are a lot of reasons to like this team.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: Dec. 9 at New Orleans

Three-pointers will be crucial to the outcome of this game. The Hornets are 10-0 when making more threes than their opponent and 10-3 when even attempting more threes.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/7 vs. Milwaukee

Tonight's game features three of the five NBA rookies averaging at least nine points per game: Kevin Durant (19.5 ppg), Jeff Green (9.6 ppg) and Yi Jianlian (9.5 ppg).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gelabale Gets the Point

With the Sonics missing point guards Luke Ridnour and Delonte West last night against the L.A. Clippers, swingman Mickaƫl Gelabale saw extended action at the position for the first time in his career. Backing up starter Earl Watson, Gelabale played 11 minutes. He did not score and committed three turnovers, but had three boards and three assists. Most notably, the Sonics were +8 during Gelabale's time on the court.

"He more than held his own, which was good," Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo said after today's practice. "We were positive when he was on the floor. Some of it is always matchups and who's on the floor for the other team too, but the fact remains - had he really struggled, then we wouldn't have been able to keep him on the floor as long as we did. We would have had to get Earl back sooner. Earl would have been more fatigued, would have had to play more minutes. He did good things. I thought he defended well, I thought for the most part he got the ball where we wanted it to be, got us into some sets."

"I thought he was good," added Ridnour. "He's a big point guard out there, but it was fun to see him play. He looked confident."

Gelabale was also pleased with his ability to play the position, though he took exception to his shooting, telling reporters, "Yesterday I was 0-of-5. Today I need to work on my shot."

For Gelabale, the hardest part of playing the position was, "Taking the ball upcourt with the point guard defending hard on you.

"Yeah, because I'm 6-7 and yesterday the guard was like 6-0 or 5-something." [Clippers point guards Dan Dickau and Brevin Knight go 6-0 and 5-10, respectively.]

Reporters asked Gelabale if playing the point was a way to get on the floor more often, and he downplayed the notion, answering with a smile, "I'm working on it, but we have three point guards, so I don't want to be the fourth one."

With three point guards competing for minutes at the position, Gelabale doesn't figure to get time there when the Sonics are healthy. However, it could be part of his long-term future. Carlesimo pointed out that, if at some point Gelabale goes down to the D-League, the Sonics might ask Idaho Stampede Head Coach Bryan Gates to try to get him some minutes at the point.

Gelabale's run as the backup point guard might not be over yet. Ridnour and West are questionable to play against the Bucks Friday after practicing today. I had more on that topic in my story on the Sonics evaluating their point guards.

- With the Sonics about to reach the quarter pole for the 2007-08 season, Carlesimo said he expects to meet with his players individually over the course of the upcoming road trip to evaluate the season so far and have both sides offer feedback.

"Some guys we've already had opportunities," said Carlesimo. "We haven't had real sitdowns. After tomorrow, not that there's magic, but it's 20 games and we're going to be away from home for seven or eight days, so it really lends itself well now in the next week or so to have sitdowns with people."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Opposing View - 12/5 vs. 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. Kevin also answered our five questions before the first meeting between these teams this season.

For more on the Clippers, check out ClipsNation's breakdown and Clippers.com's Pregame Report.

What has been the key to Chris Kaman's outstanding play this season?
[1] Chris, as Elton Brand did during Summer '05, got in shape. He's more agile and more confident. [2] He's improved in recognizing and passing out of the double team.

How has the plethora of injuries affected the Clippers?
Inordinately. As if Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston weren't enough, Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell, and Al Thornton have all missed time. It's starting to take its toll.

What can Mike Dunleavy do to get the team going?
Duleavy had done a nice job finding opportunities for Kaman in the post and mismatches for the wing players, but guys are still standing around on the weak side. The Clippers need to do a better job of at least approximating a motion offense.

How is Al Thornton's development coming?
Slow. His decision-making needs some work and I'd like to see him take his defenders off the dribble rather than rely on his inconsistent jumper. He still gets lost on defensive rotations.

What's one thing we don't know but should about the Clippers?
It's been two weeks since the Clippers have had 5-on-5 contact drills because they're only eight deep in practice.

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/5 vs. L.A. Clippers

Legendary Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler is famous, amongst other things, for his "Lawler's Law," which states that the first team to 100 points will win the game. In Clippers franchise history, the team's media notes indicate, teams reaching 100 first are 1,653-148 (.918). This season, Lawler's Law is 10-for-10 when it comes to Clippers games.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Collison Ready to Return

Sonics big man Nick Collison went through practice with the team Tuesday and will return to the lineup Wednesday, when the Sonics play host to the Los Angeles Clippers (7:30 p.m., FSN, KTTH 770 AM, tickets).

"I felt a little winded today, but I think that's to be expected," Collison said after practice. "Otherwise, I feel fine. I don't really feel rusty or anything. I've put up a lot of shots the last few days. I feel good."

"Nick being back is definitely a good thing," said Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo.

After the swelling around his nose went down, Sonics doctors determined that Collison did not need his nose to be reset. He did have it reset when he broke his nose in 2004-05, but that fracture occurred in the middle of the nose; this time, it was off to the side on the right nasal wall.

Collison will have to adjust to wearing a protective facemask for at least the next three weeks or so, but having worn one three years ago, he's already gotten over the experience.

"That first time, the mask didn't fit at first and it was pressed against my nose - I couldn't breathe," recalled Collison. "The first game we played, against Houston, I freaked out and threw it into the crowd - didn't even throw it to the bench, I threw it into the crowd. (Athletic trainer) Mike (Shimensky) made me come out, the ballboy got it and I put it back on."

Afterwards, Collison got a new facemask made which fit better, and he played well during the month-plus he wore the mask during his rookie season, so it should not be an issue now.

"I freaked out the first day," Collison said, "but since then I was fine and I feel fine with it now, so I don't think it will be a big deal. It's just kind of an inconvenience."

- Delonte West watched the final part of practice from the sidelines, bothered by plantar fasciitis that affected his right foot. Officially, West is considered a game-time decision against the Clippers.

"He went through most of the practice," noted Carlesimo. "He got hurt at the tail end. Mike just told me when it happened that he hurt something and he was going to get looked at later, so I don't know."

If West is unable to play, Earl Watson would step back into the starting lineup, but the bigger question would be backing up Watson given Luke Ridnour's injury. Mickaƫl Gelabale worked at the point opposite Watson late in practice, and would probably be next in line at the position. Gelabale played point forward at times last year in practice, but never saw time as the lead guard in a game. Damien Wilkins, who started three games at point guard during the 2005-06 season, would also be an option.

Carlesimo left the door open for the possibility of Ridnour making his return, though that possibility is unlikely. Still, Ridnour has made strides recently and is nearing a return from the torn quad which has kept him out the last three weeks.

"Maybe Mike will throw him in 10-minute mode," Carlesimo offered. "I doubt it, because he didn't let him go today, but he did some stuff - he did some 5-on-0 and he did a little bit of practice.

"Evidently, they're a lot more encouraged the last few days then they've been. I think they're starting to push him a little bit."

- Carlesimo was pleased with how the Sonics responded coming off of a tough loss on Sunday after an extremely light workout on Monday.

"We had an excellent practice," he said. "When you practice the way we practiced today, you're going to get better."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Brief Practice for Sonics

The Sonics practiced for about an hour Monday, stretching, lifting weights and doing some shooting during that span. Today was originally scheduled as an off day, but Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo decided to get some light work in after the Sonics lost last night to Golden State.

"I just think we needed to be together," Carlesimo explained. "Getting some shots and getting a lift is always a good thing. I thought we needed being together more than we needed a day off today."

Because the session was so light, Carlesimo wasn't able to get an idea of how the team responded to the loss to the Warriors.

"Tomorrow will be a good test," he said, "we'll have a legit practice tomorrow and we'll see how we respond. But, more importantly, we'll see Wednesday night how we respond."

There was good news on the status of big man Nick Collison, who has missed the last three games after suffering a fracture of his right nasal wall last Wednesday in Los Angeles. Collison, who went through the non-contact portions of practice on Saturday, will be able to return barring any setback going through a complete practice tomorrow.

"He's going to practice tomorrow," said Carlesimo, "and if he's OK after practice, he'll be available Wednesday."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Kia Surprising Stat: 12/2 vs. Golden State

After hitting his only three-point attempt during Friday's win over Indiana, Sonics guard Delonte West now leads the NBA in three-point percentage. West has hit 54.5% from downtown this season.