Sunday, February 24, 2008

Opposing View: 2/24 vs. L.A. Lakers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we turn to Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold, the outstanding Lakers blog. Here's Kurt's preview of tonight's matchup. The BasketBlog also has a look at the Sonics.

How much of the credit does Pau Gasol deserve for the Lakers going 8-1 since he entered the lineup?
He gets a lot, although the change he brought to this team was mental as much as physical. After Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury, the Lakers struggled (especially on defense) and the team went into a bit of a malaise. From the day the trade was announced, even before Gasol stepped on the court, the Lakers have been playing with a renewed energy. Now they are starting to show the confidence of a contender.

On the court, Gasol’s game blends perfectly with what the Lakers want to do. In it’s pure form, the triangle offense likes a post player to be productive in both the low and high post. (Shaq, back in his prime, passed well enough from the high post to be useful that far from the hoop.) Gasol fits so well because he has a variety of post moves, can shoot it consistently out to 18 feet, can put the ball on the floor and is a very good passer from the post. With him on the court you see a Laker offense really clicking because everyone keeps moving and spreading the floor — if you’re the guy with the best shot he gets you the ball. That type of play is infectious, and right now the Lakers are passing very well.

Have you noticed any effect of Kobe Bryant's torn ligament in his pinky finger?
Not much. The first couple of games it clearly bothered him, but after longtime Laker trainer Gary Vitti came up with a specific tape job that keeps the finger in a better position Kobe seems to be Kobe. He is still driving to the lane like always. His outside shooting, particularly from 3, seems less consistent (shooting just 30% from three in the last 10 games) but he continues to be efficient in the offense -- the other night against the Suns he was 16 of 25 from the field. The other thing you may notice, he’ll take fewer shots. Last night against the Clippers he had 11 shots. That however is more a function of how the Lakers are playing unselfishly on offense than it is the finger.

When you compare the Lakers with Gasol to the Lakers with Bynum before his injury, how are they similar or different?
There are a few key differences. First, the Lakers have not been as good defensively (giving up two more points per 100 possessions in the last 10 games than they do for the season, from stats prior to the Clipper game last night). Bynum had become a very good defender in the paint, blocking and altering shots, then grabbing the rebound. He really protected the rim. Gasol is a nice defender in the paint, smart and solid, but he doesn’t bring the intimidation Bynum did. However, the defense issues haven’t hurt them because the offense has been so much better.

The other thing of note is the pace is slower, but the team is more efficient in the half-court offense now. With Bynum protecting the paint, the Lakers perimeter defenders took more chances, and Bynum’s rebounding and outlets helped fuel some speed. That led to easy baskets. Plus, a favorite play of those Lakers was to have Bynum trailing the play setting a drag pick (a pick and roll early in the clock, before the defense is set) on which everyone would rotate to Kobe and Bynum would roll hard to the basket and get a lot of lobs and dunks.

With Gasol the Lakers are going at about three fewer possessions per game, but they are much more efficient in the half-court offense. Gasol has a much more rounded game and can score away from the basket. The Lakers are cutting without the ball, guys like Derek Fisher and former Sonics forward Vladimir Radmanovic are spreading the floor and getting more open looks because of the extra pass. Also, Lamar Odom is much more comfortable in the role of third option, without the pressure of having to score much, and the result is he is become far more aggressive when he gets a matchup he likes. Odom is averaging 15 points and 12 boards a game in the last 10.

After losing to the Suns in the playoffs the last two years, is it meaningful that the Lakers won this year's season series 3-1?
It’s not just that they beat them, but how. In the first few meetings, the Suns had no real answer for Andrew Bynum’s offense, they had nobody large enough to to contain him on the block. The Suns countered by getting Shaq — but in doing so they gave up their best perimeter defender. So when the Lakers played them this week (on the second game of a back-to-back for LA) the Lakers took advantage out on the wings. Plus, Gasol pulled Shaq out 18 feet from the basket, then shot over him and drove around him. And, at the end of that game, the Lakers went with a smaller lineup (Kobe playing the three) and beat the Suns that way.

The Suns are a very good team, you never know what will happen in the playoffs, but I think the Lakers don’t fear the Suns this year. Really, because of the versatility of the roster, I don’t think they fear the matchups with anyone in the West.

What don't we know but should about the Lakers?
I think the one thing not many people see — because of the amazing record since Pau arrived — is that the defense really has not been as good. Nobody is in panic mode, because Bynum will be back next month and that will help considerably. But it is going on right now.

One other thing — the Lakers have played the toughest part of their schedule. While there are no easy games in a very deep Western Conference, the Lakers have played their season series against the Suns, Celtics, Pistons and most of their games against the other top teams in the West. While the Lakers still have to blend Bynum back into what they do, it will be easier to do it against more teams likely headed to the lottery than what their competition at the top of the West have left.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/24 vs. L.A. Lakers

After holding opponents to sub-40% shooting just nine times all of 2006-07, the Sonics have done so 14 times this year, including four of the last six games and both matchups against Portland.

The Sonics are 9-5 when holding opponents below 40% shooting.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/22 vs. Portland

Last night's Portland victory over the Sonics moved the Blazers to within two wins of evening the all-time series. The Sonics and Blazers have played 190 times in the regular season over the last 38 years, with the Sonics winning 96 and Portland 94.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shootaround Notes

PORTLAND - Made the drive down I-5 this morning and got to the Rose Garden just in time to catch Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo after the team's shootaround. Johan Petro will replace Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup after yesterday's trade.

Also, good news on Kevin Durant, who went through shootaround and looks to be feeling better. He should be a go for tonight's game.

Opposing View: 2/21 at Portland

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we hear from's Casey Holdahl, whom I've been reading on three different sites for years now. Check out Casey's Center Court blog, Mike Barrett's world-famous blog and's preview of tonight's game. After you've finished that, Blazers Edge is one of the net's finest team blogs and don't forget to stop by the Behind the Beat blog by Oregonian beat writers Jason Quick and Joe Freeman.

How exciting was Brandon Roy's All-Star performance for Blazers fans?
I think the stellar performance that Brandon Roy had in the All-Star game was just icing on the cake. Being a first-timer, we all kind of expected that Brandon would get a few token minutes here and there, so it was a real pleasant surprise to see Roy get as much run as he did. And for Brandon to make as much of a mark as he did in those minutes was about as gratifying as anything a Portland player has done in recent memory.

When Brandon was announced as an All-Star reserve, it seemed like a weight had been lifted off the city. Roy making the All-Star game was validation and recognition of the turnaround that we’ve been fostering here in Portland. I think Blazer fans tend to feel a little slighted by the media, probably due to being up here in the Northwest and in a smaller market, so to get that respect on a national stage was eminently gratifying.

How, if at all did the winning streak change expectations in Portland?
The streak was a bit of a dual-edged sword. It was obviously a great thing for the team and the fans, but in a way, it might have given the Blazer faithful a false sense of what to expect from the team this season. Winning 13 games in a row is impressive no matter how you slice it, but it’s still just a little more than a fifteenth of the entire season.

As far as expectations go, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a lot of fans assumed we’d be playoff bound after the streak ended. As the season wears on though, I think people here in Portland are seeing that a lot can happen, both good and bad, throughout the course of 82 games. Are fans still excited about the possibility of making the playoffs? Absolutely, but they’re also patient and smart enough to realize that it’s not the end of the world if the youngest team in the NBA doesn’t make the postseason.

What's been the most surprising aspect of this season?
There have been quite a few surprises this year. I don’t think anyone was sure how the team would respond to losing their leading scorer and rebounder, so the fact that the Blazers are a better team this season is in and of itself at least a little surprising.

I also think people assumed that Brandon Roy might have had a bit of a sophomore slump, especially considering that he’s the focus of every opposing team’s gameplan, but the exact opposite has happened. At the start of the season I think even the most hardcore fans would have told you that Brandon is a great player, but maybe not of superstar caliber. Now I don’t think anyone doubts that Roy has the makings of a Hall of Fame career.

And I can’t talk about surprises without mentioning the play of Travis Outlaw. He showed flashes of what he could do at the end of last season, but he’s really come on strong this year. His maturation from this time last year has been the biggest surprise for me. I think he’s a legit contender for Sixth Man and Most Improved.

How has James Jones' injury affected the Blazers?
It’s impossible to overstate how important James Jones is to this team. There are a fair amount of people who would argue that James’ return to the lineup at about the 17-game mark is what really spurred the winning streak. His outside shooting and ability to spread the floor in the second unit give the Blazers an entirely different look. But James might most be missed for his calming presence on the floor and on the bench. He just doesn’t get rattled. Up by 20 or down by 20, James Jones is the exact same presence on the court.

The thing about James Jones that people might not realize is that he’s an incredibly smart guy both on and off the court. He understands the game and everything that comes with it as well as anyone I’ve ever met. It’s like he’s got a sixth-sense for hoops.

What don't we know but should about the Blazers?
The “Jail Blazers” days are over. This franchise is dead serious about winning the right way; anything less is simply unacceptable. I can’t imagine there’s another team, and I’m talking about everyone from the basketball side to marketing to ticket sales to broadcast to community relations, that is more focused on winning a championship with good people than we are.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/21 at Portland

Today's surprising stat is actually a graph. I wanted to look at Portland's record relative to .500 over the course of the season. Check it out.

The 13-game winning streak stands out, obviously. After the end of their streak, the Blazers split games for a period of a couple of weeks before the team's current five-game losing streak.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Opposing View: 2/19 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. Also check out Graham Kendrick's preview of tonight's game for

Is it safe to say that, post-Pau Gasol trade, this is a new Grizzlies era headlined by Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, Jr.?
I’d say so. Clearly, Rudy Gay is the focal point right now. He’s a 21-year-old, second-year player who is averaging 20 points a game, shooting well from the floor and the three-point line, and shows signs of developing into a disruptive force defensively. He’s on the all-star track. (You could argue that he’s the best 21-and-under player in the league right now, though Durant, Oden, Bynum probably have more upside.) It’ll be interesting to see what Gay does in the second half as the clear-cut first option: Can he push that scoring average closer to 25 points per game? Can he be that kind of scorer heading into next season?

Conley’s only played 23 games so far because of injuries and a decision to break him in slowly, but he’s acquitted himself very well for a 20-year-old rookie point guard. He hasn’t done anything to shake the faith that he can be an All-Star level point in a few years, though there is some concern about his durability. (He’s got a pretty slight frame.)

Add those two to whomever the team drafts with what is likely to be a Top 5 pick in this summer’s rookie draft and you’ve got the young core this team will probably be built around.

With the deadline coming up on Thursday, do you see Memphis making another move?
Anyone, aside from general manager Chris Wallace, who claims to know what the Grizzlies are going to do before this week’s trade deadline is not to be trusted. Wallace has developed a reputation for candor this season, especially in the wake of the Gasol trade, but that’s only after moves have been made. Word of the Gasol trade didn’t leak out until the day it happened and people I talk to around the team say there’s no real scuttle about potential deals.

That said, it’s clear that Mike Miller, Kyle Lowry, and Hakim Warrick (and possibly Javaris Crittenton) are potentially available.

Miller was made available to Houston in the trade that netted Rudy Gay (the Rockets chose to take Shane Battier instead – oops!) and also was being discussed with the Bobcats last summer (with the Bobcats acquiring Jason Richardson instead). His potential availability is nothing new.

As for Lowry, Chris Wallace has already stated his intention to trade one of the team’s three young point guards before next season. Conley isn’t going anywhere, but there’s plenty of reason to suspect Lowry is going to be the odd man out, now or this summer.

Warrick has played well since the Gasol trade, but no one thinks he’s the long-term answer as a starting power forward.

My best guess: That there’s reluctance to trade Miller and risk further alienating a dwindling fan base that didn’t understand the Gasol trade. If a team (like the Heat) were willing to take Brian Cardinal’s contract as well in return for expiring contracts, then I think Miller will be dealt. Barring that, my hunch is the team waits until this summer to make a move with Miller. If I’m wrong, then I suspect Cleveland is the team that would end up with Miller if Wallace decides to pull the trigger now and can’t move Cardinal.

I think Lowry is a better bet to be dealt this week, probably in exchange for a first-round pick in this summer’s draft. Denver and Phoenix are teams I’d think most likely to make that deal.

Personally, I’d like to see the team stand pat this week and use those assets in potential sign-and-trade deals this summer to try and pry away a restricted free agent or two.

How will the situation at point guard eventually shake out?
Barring something unexpected, Conley is the point guard, now and in the future. Assuming Lowry is dealt, the hope would be that Crittenton can emerge as a combo guard off the bench, backing up Conley and sometimes playing alongside him.

What has Darko Milicic given the Grizzlies this season?
Darko has been erratic, plagued by thumb, knee, and ankle injuries, but probably a little underrated. He’s been a very effective post defender and has played some of the league’s best centers — Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Marcus Camby — to draws.

Darko’s shown some positive signs since the Gasol trade. In his last five games without Gasol in which he’s gotten 30+ minutes (5 of the past 7 games), Darko’s averaged 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

He gets flack for not living up to his pre-draft hype, but Darko is still only 22, is a legit center, and has the chance to be a quality rebounder and defensive anchor. Optimistic Grizzlies fans would point to the slow development of players such as Tyson Chandler and Chris Kaman and assert that Darko still has a chance to develop into a center of that caliber.

What don't we know but should about the Grizzlies?
After playing fewer than 20 minutes for three consecutive games, Kyle Lowry played 40 against Philadelphia prior to the All-Star break. Many assumed he was being showcased for a possible trade. If that’s the case again tonight, he should get plenty of minutes to match up with the player Grizzlies fans most often compare him to: Former Griz and current Sonic Earl Watson. Both are physical, attacking point guards with shaky jumpers and limited playmaking ability. Early on, Lowry was thought to be the evolutionary version of Watson, but this season fans are starting to wonder if he’ll really be any better in the long term. That limited upside is one of the reasons Lowry is the most likely of the team’s three point guards to be dealt.

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/19 vs. Memphis

In their first game after the 2007 All-Star break, the Sonics hosted the Memphis Grizzlies and defeated them 121-105.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

All-Star Live Blog

Welcome to New Orleans Arena, the site of the 57th Annual NBA All-Star Game. We're closing in on tip-off and excitement is building in the arenas as the best basketball players in the world prepare to show off their skills.

I hope the blog has managed to convey this throughout the week, but being at the All-Star Game as a member of the media can be surreal. As I walked to go to media dining before the game, I passed about half of the Western Conference All-Star team in the hall. I arrived here about an hour and a half ago and took some time to sit in the lower media section to get a different view of the arena, all prepared for the game but with almost no one but media inside. You really get a sense of the magnitude of this event from that perspective. On hte other end of hte court, the West All-Stars were taking a team photo and preparing for the introduction of the lineups later tonight. I'll be sharing thoughts and observations throughout the game, so stay with us.

Tip-Off: After the introduction of the lineups (to New Orleans' famous jazz music, allowing Rasheed Wallace and LeBron James in particular to get their groove on) and stirring renditions of the Canadian and U.S. National Anthems, we're about ready to go. Hornets Chris Paul and David West will take the microphone to thank fans here and watching worldwide for their support of the city of New Orleans. By the way, while we think of this event as being attended by corporate types and not locals, Paul and the other Hornets have gotten huge cheers every time they've been announced throughout the weekend.

Here's what the court looks like from my perch above the 300 level:

10:53 1st: When the players stripped off their warmups, it was my first good look at the All-Star uniforms ... and they are definitely different. The West's unis are white in the front and gold in the back, while the East has blue on the front and silver on the back. When players are turned at different angles, it basically looks like there are four different teams out on the court.

5:32 1st: All East in the early going, racing out to an 18-10 lead. The All-Star Game isn't about defense, naturally, but the lack of it from the West was particularly egregious in the first few minutes. LeBron James took advantage to fly out of nowhere for an impressive alley-oop finish.

Kobe Bryant's night is probably done after less than three minutes of action as the league and the Lakers don't want to risk further injury to his injured pinky finger.

2:10 1st: Between three games (Rookie Challenge, D-League All-Star and All-Star) and All-Star Saturday Night, I've seen plenty of NBA timeout entertainment, some of it imported from various NBA teams as well as the Hornets own entertainment. The most pleasant surprise by far has been the "Used-to-Bees," a senior dance team for the Hornets that shows dancing is hardly just for the young. They performed during the last time and delighted the crowd by performing the Soulja Boy dance.

End 1st: The East holds a 34-28 lead with one period of play in the books. No individual player really stood out during the first quarter; Chris Bosh led all scorers with eight points. Yet to get in the game: Brandon Roy and Carlos Boozer for the West, Joe Johnson and Ray Allen for the East. Looks like all four will get in to start the second. Roy and Allen will match up with each other.

8:52 2nd: Brandon Roy has come in and made an immediate impact on this game, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds. No nerves whatsoever in his All-Star debut, and Roy is showing that he belongs on this stage. Roy had a great up-and-under move after driving baseline. The East still leads, however, 46-39.

By the way, Allen is 1-of-2 from three-point range in his first three minutes of action, which reminds me that Allen has gone back and forth with Kobe Bryant for the most threes in All-Star action ... but leads in attempts by a mile. He's getting it up when he gets in the game.

5:08 2nd: It's the Dwight Howard and LeBron James show here at the New Orleans Arena. It started when Jason Kidd lobbed for James, who unselfishly left it up for Howard to finish, as Marvelous Marv Albert might say, with authority. James returned the favor on the next play, tossing it up to James for the finish. Then james found Howard again moments later. They've got 12 points apiece and Howard has added seven assists and six boards as he goes for the vaunted All-Star triple-double. The East leads it by nine, 62-53.

Halftime: At the midway point, the East still has a nine-point advantage, 74-65. Hre's hoping the West can stage a mini-rally and make this a close game going to the fourth quarter. Brandon Roy played the entire second quarter and leads the West with 11 points, adding five rebounds.

An unorthodox highlight: Rasheed Wallace hitting a left-handed three-pointer. Wallace, who always shoots left-handed before games (at least in Seattle), took two lefty triples and made the second one. Luke Ridnour is a tremendous left-handed shooter, I can tell you from watching Sonics practices. That might be an interesting All-Star event: the off-hand shootout.

12:00 3rd: After a terrific halftime show hosted by Harry Connick, Jr. that featured some of the best jazz musicians the city of New Orleans has to offer, we're ready to get underway with the second half. Steve Nash will start for the East in place of Kobe Bryant.

4:34 3rd: The East has opened up a lead as large as I believe 16 points in this third quarter, though a little West surge the last couple of minutes has it back down to 11 and kept hopes of a competitive fourth quarter alive. The difference might simply be that LeBron James is on the bench, because he has dominated this game when he has been in. James has 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and has reduced everyone else on the court to supporting roles. He's well on track for MVP (joining the one he has from 2006 in Houston) if the East hangs on.

Houston's Yao Ming is looking to hit a three-pointer tonight. He's attempted two, missing them both and drawing all air on the second. In his career, Yao is 1-of-9 from downtown.

End 3rd: It's a 13-point margin as we go to the final period of play and the hope remains the West will make a legit run at this coming out of the break.

The NBA has highlighted local basketball legends, including Louisiana natives Bob Love, Karl Malone, Bob Petit and Willis Reed (who works for the Hornets). During a third-quarter timeout, the family of late New Orleans Jazz star Pete Maravich was introduced. The other local hero to draw a big hand? Former Saints QB Archie Manning.

8:43 4th: Don't look now, but we've got us a ballgame. The West has pulled to within five, 108-103, and Chris Paul is leading the comeback. The hometown point guard just hit a floater in the paint, giving him 11 points and a game-best 10 assists. If the West comes back to win, it will be hard to deny Paul MVP honors.

Amare Stoudemire added to the evening's highlight dunks by driving and dunking over, I think, Dwight Howard. I couldn't quite tell watching the replay if it was Stoudemire or Chris Bosh. (Update: It was indeed Howard.) Either way, very impressive.

5:34 4th: What you ask for with an All-Star Game is some great individual plays, some phenomenal dunks and legitimate basketball with a great deal of intensity over the last five minutes. It looks like we're going to get all of that tonight. The West has taken a 114-112 lead, outscoring the East 21-6 in the period. Chris Paul missed a layup that would have torn the roof off this arena. On the court for the East for this run: Paul, Brandon Roy, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan (he replaced Carlos Boozer early in the run) and Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire had another powerful dunk finish. The East will counter with Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James (who just threw up an airball from about 27 feet) and Dwight Howard.

1:49 4th: The last three buckets for the East: Ray Allen three; Ray Allen three; Ray Allen three. The last bucket gave the East a 125-122 lead. Allen had been having an unremarkable game before the final couple of minutes, but now he's got 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting (5-of-8 from three) and has put himself firmly into the MVP discussion. Of course, with 1:49 left on the clock, there's still plenty of time for the West, which had surged ahead 122-119 on a Brandon Roy layup in transition before Allen's threes.

By the way, Roy, in his second year, is on the court to finish this game with Steve Nash and Allen Iverson, amongst others, on the bench. Wow?

Final: The East wins this one, . Chris Paul tied it at 125 with a three and had a chance to be a hero in front of his home crowd, but - in a turn of events so stunning it can barely be imagined - Paul was called for an offensive foul setting a screen. By that point, the intensity had picked up - some East fans to our right were even chanting "DE-FENSE!" LeBron James had just given the East the lead with a powerful driving dunk, and Dwyane Wade followed the offensive foul with a layup plus the foul. Even though he missed the free throw, the West never got back in it. A Brandon Roy three gave him 19 points for the evening and brought the West within three, but Ray Allen hit the first free throw and Dwight Howard grabbed the rebound on his miss and that was that.

James is your MVP, finishing with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Allen scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, nine of them on threes. On the West side, Paul had 16 points and 14 assists and his fellow first-time All-Star Roy finished with 18 points and nine boards and acquitted himself quite nicely indeed.

I'll fight the crowd to listen to the postgame interviews and then wrap it up from New Orleans Arena.

Wrapup: Truly, I think this night had everything you could ask for as an NBA fan - though I must admit I was rooting for a West victory; conference pride runs deep. We had the NBA's best players showing off what makes them special, we had a number of memorable highlights and ultimately we had a terrific finish that was as good as it gets short of a last-second shot.

To be able to experience that from in the arena ... well, that's just incredible. To be able to talk to the players afterwards is even more amazing.

Here's Brandon Roy. He said he was nervous before hitting his first shot and getting going:

NBA Jam Session

With no media events scheduled for Sunday, I used the afternoon to see more of New Orleans (at least by day) and make sure I gave the beignets a try at Cafe Du Monde.

I did make a quick stop at the NBA Jam Session and realized I haven't blogged yet about that experience. The jam Session is fan central during All-Star Weekend and a dream spot for fans, especially younger ones. They have the opportunity to get autographs, participate in various clinics, test their skills, play video games, trade cards and so much more.

Here's what it looks like at the T-Mobile booth, giving a sense of the crowd.

Jam Session is getting a boost from some of my Sonics co-workers. Todd Albright, Gabriella Buono and John Leach from our Events & Entertainment department have been working the Jam Session throughout All-Star Weekend, playing a key role in the events taking place at Center Court, including the All-Star and Rookie/Sophomore practices and yesterday's D-League All-Star Game.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Live Blogging All-Star Saturday Night

It's All-Star Saturday Night and I'm back high above the court at New Orleans Arena for all the pageantry of this evening, highlighted by the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout and the Sprite Slam Dunk.

With all the traffic in New Orleans, thank goodness there are special lanes set aside for the media buses that ferry us back and forth the mile or so between the arena and the downtown hotels. I'm also thankful most everything else is within walking distance of the hotel - I'm getting my exercise this weekend for sure. As for the buses, they feature an interesting cross-section of the international media that makes up a good portion of the press contingent at the All-Star Game, some local beat writers and the national folks. There are also about a half-dozen of us from the various team sites here in town and it's been fun to meet guys I have e-mailed with for the Opposing View in the past.

We walked off the bus about quarter of six, earlier than yesterday (the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam got underway an hour later than tonight's events), allowing me to see the New Orleans Arena in the light of days. The outside is sort of a light teal - I've never seen anything like that with an arena. Incidentally, and I hate to make you jealous, but the weather today was gorgeous - about 70 degrees and sunny. I can't tell you how nice it is to walk around without a coat for the first time since probably September.

Note: Wireless issues kept me from blogging live until the Sprite Slam Dunk. Here's a recap of the evening.

Haier Shooting Stars: The first contest of the evening is also the most interesting in terms of the various competitors. To refresh your memory, one current NBA player, one legend and one WNBA player representing an organization/city join together to make shots from various locations as quickly as possible.

You have all sorts of player combinations. The San Antonio team had two seven-footers (Tim Duncan and David Robinson) and Becky Hammon, who goes all of about 5-6. Fortunately, no team was loaded with all shooters. Alas, skill is often secondary in this competition to luck on the three-point shot. That proved out in the finals, as the Chicago team (B.J. Armstrong, Chris Duhon and Candice Dupree) did fine through the early spots but needed 16 shots from halfcourt to just two from the victorious San Antonio squad.

Robinson, despite showing some rust on his first shot (which took him seven tries), looks like he could suit up today if need be.

Playstation Skills Challenge: This competition has drawn some great fields in recent years, and this group was no exception - three great point guards in Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams and the two-time defending champ Dwyane Wade. It came down to Paul and Williams in a fitting final round between two players from the 2005 NBA Draft who are often pitted against each other by the media. Williams was basically perfect in setting a record with a time of 25.5 seconds. Paul wasn't bad with a score of 31.2, but the hometown favorite was denied.

"He told me to go slow and he was going to go fast and he was going to win," Williams said afterwards. His response? "I can't do that."

Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout: This year's shootout got off to a slow start with subpar performances from Steve Nash (9) and Richard Hamilton (14). I'm not sure Hamilton was helped by practicing 15-footers in the warmup period instead of threes. He lost two shots for having his foot on the line.

Things got more exciting when hometown favorite Peja Stojakovic came up. Stojakovic needed a score of at least 14 to stay alive for the finals and didn't look likely to get there after missing seven of his first 10 shots. He heated up, however, and the crowd got louder with each make as Stojakovic hit seven of his last nine shots to score 15. The joy was short-lived, however, as Jason Kapono put up an effortless 20 to eliminate Stojakovic and move to the finals with Daniel Gibson and Dirk Nowitzki.

I'm sitting next to Damien Pierce of and Micah Hart of (beaming from his team's deal for Mike Bibby earlier today), both of them Texas alumni rooting for ex-Longhorn Gibson. After a score of 17, Gibson was alive, and he finished ahead of Nowitzki (14). But the night belonged to defending champ Kapono, who dazzled the crowd by making 20 of his 25 shots, including all five money balls. That gave him a score of 25, tying Craig Hodges' record from way back in 1986. He is a machine. Simply, Jason Kapono was born for the Shootout.

Sprite Slam Dunk: One round of dunks is in the books and already we've been dazzled. Dwight Howard's dunk off the back of the backboard, going from one side to the other to finish, was truly something we've never seen before. If he had pulled it off on his first try, we might have all gone home. Even on try number two, it was still an obvious 50.

Gerald Green also got creative, blowing out a candle on a cupcake placed on the rim by teammate Rashad McCants while in midair. Love the idea. Jamario Moon's 180 dunk was more conventional but equally impressive, and he's tied with Green at 46 behind Howard. Rudy Gay (37) lags behind after a relatively pedestrian dunk (which still is incredibly amazing, but we're speaking relatively here).

... The finals are set: It will be Green, the defending champ, against my pick going in, Howard. Howard earned another 50 and brought down the house by donning a cape, taking off his jersey to reveal a Superman t-shirt and throwing in - not really dunking, exactly - a dunk after taking off just inside the free-throw line. 7-footers are not supposed to be able to do that. Nobody is supposed to be able to do that!

Green's second dunk, a windmill off a McCants feed at the rim, advanced by one point over Moon. Moon hurt himself by putting the tape down at 17 feet, where he was reportedly able to dunk from, and then jumping inside the charity stripe. His dunk, a lefty finish from way out off of a bounce from the busy Jason Kapono, was still impressive but expectations built up because of the tape. If Moon had pulled off the dunk from 17 feet, it would have been the greatest dunk ever seen.

Remember that you the fans will decide tonight's winner via text message or Here's the explanation so you can cast your vote! I just can't wait to see what Howard has in store after his two efforts in the first round.

... After one dunk in the second round, the night remains Dwight Howard's. Green pulled off a very difficult dunk, going between his legs off a bounce from McCants, but it paled in comparison to Howard volleyballing the ball off the backboard with his left hand and dunking it with his right while on the other side of the rim. Are you kidding me?

... The dunking is in the books. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard's final dunk might have been his least impressive. It was a creative idea - placing the ball on a mini-basket (Magic-branded, natch) and then windmill dunking, but just didn't play out as well as the other dunks. Gerald Green's final attempt also fell flat. As Dr. J points out, what he did - dunking in his green-stockinged feet - is very difficult, but it doesn't make a great visual. The crowd definitely favored Howard and I'm going to to cast my vote for Dwight. Make yours count!

... It's official. Dwight Howard earned 78% of the votes cast by fans to win the Sprite Slam Dunk. While I enjoyed Nate Robinson's win two years ago as a proud Husky, I think this was the best Slam Dunk competition in years. I love the way the NBA used the Internet to build hype and interest. It really helped out my enjoyment. While I always enjoy watching All-Star Saturday Night on TV, being here in the arena and feeling the response of the crowd made this really special. It was a blast.

Update: Here's Dwight Howard's post-victory press conference:

Saturday Afternoon at All-Star

Saturday's schedule didn't seem as jam-packed as Friday, when the Rookies (and Sopohomores) practiced and played, but lo and behold I've kept busy. It's 7:30 p.m. local time and the All-Star Saturday Night festivities are underway, but this is my first chance to blog.

The day started with All-Star pratices at the Jam Session at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. I took in the tail end of the East session, which by that point mostly consisted of half-court shooting. Joe Johnson ended a cold stretch by knocking one down from halfcourt.

At precisely noon, the media stormed onto the floor and took it over for a half-hour's worth of interviews. I wandered around a little bit, getting a feel for the craziness. I took some video of Seattle native Brandon Roy:

The level of craziness doesn't match Super Bowl media day, but there was a Canadian TV reporter walking around wearing a purple blazers, white leather shoes, beads and sunglasses.

Yesterday, I asked Roy about being the first player from this generation of Seattle NBA players to make the All-Star Game.

"I think it means a lot," he said. "We've come so far in such a short time. Now we've got our first All-Star."

Roy said he was still hearing from other Seattle products and his former UWA teammates.

"They almost couldn't believe it," said Roy. "Coach (Lorenzo) Romar called me, all the players I played with.

"They said, 'You're an All-Star - do you know what that means?' I still don't fully understand."

After breaking for lunch (I highly recommend the Shrimp Po'Boy), it was back to the Convention Center for the D-League All-Star Game. I wanted to see Randy Livingston, Cory Violette and Lance Allred from the Idaho Stampede, the Sonics D-League affiliate. On top of that, Idaho Head Coach Bryan Gates, who worked with the Sonics coaching staff during summer league last year, was coaching the "Red" team in the game.

Alas, the Red squad struggled, shooting just 39.6% from the field as the Blue team pulled away late in the first half and won 117-99. Jeremy Richardson of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (who has spent time with two NBA teams this season) was named MVP after scoring a game-high 22 points.

It wasn't a big night for the Stampede trio. Livingston handed out seven assists and had five steals, but shot 1-for-8 from the field. Violette grabbed 10 boards and was one of two players with double-figures rebounds, but shot 4-of-13. Allred had the best game of the group with 16 points and eight rebounds, but even he shot less than 50% (6-for-14) from the field.

"It's not really my kind of platform," said Allred afterwards. "I need structure and development." The same could probably be said of Livingston and Violette, which makes them valuable to the disciplined Stampede but less so in an All-Star environment.

Still, Allred had fun, terming the experience "rewarding yourself."

There were some other Sonics ties in the All-Star Game. Jelani McCoy spent three years in Seattle and is now an All-Star for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Livingston has had two stints with the Sonics. Eddie Gill is a former Sonics camp invitee and Kaniel Dickens (who had two highlight dunks late in the game) and Keith Langford both have played for the Sonics in summer leagues past.

The other guy I really wanted to see was Rod Benson, blogger extraordinaire. And I can't wait to see how Benson explains blowing a dunk on a breakaway when he was all alone.

The scene around here continues to be crazy. Where else but the NBA Jam Session would you see 7-7 former Wizards center Gheorge Muresan and 7-6 Yao Ming on the same court at the same time?

Friday, February 15, 2008

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam Live Blog

Pregame: Welcome to New Orleans Arenas, where All-Star Weekend tips off in full force tonight with the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. This is the big event for the Sonics, with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green teaming up for the Rookie squad.

In addition to having the best of the NBA's young talent on the floor tonight, we've got young fans in the crowd. By successfully completing reading and attendance requirements, more than 5,000 “T-Mobile Huddle-Up All-Stars,” grades 6-8 from participating school districts in New Orleans are watching the game from the best seats in the house in the lower bowl of the New Orleans Arena. Our applause and cheering tonight will have a distinctly higher pitch than normal.

I am not quite so close. In fact, I can't remember being this far away at an NBA game since watching the Sonics play Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Kingdome back in the late 1980s. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It's All-Star Weekend and I have a seat - that's more than enough.

I'll have updates focusing on the two Sonics rookies throughout the game, so keep checking back with Sonics Beat.

Tipoff: Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks introduced his rookie teammates, and both Durant and Green will start for the Rookies with Horford, Mike Conley and Luis Scola. Brandon Roy is matched up with Durant and I suspect those two are going to get awful sick of each other soon. The Sonics and Blazers play a home-and-home set next Thursday and Friday (get your tickets now for Portland's first visit of the season on Friday), so they'll match up three times in eight days.

14:27 1st Half: First, let me address that odd number up there, 14:27. We play two 20-minute halves in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam as opposed to the standard four 12-minute quarters. It's like throwing back to college for these young players.

Chris Paul is being interviewed on the arenavision during this timeout and the fans here love their All-Star point guard.

The rookies are hanging in there, with the game tied at 15 pending Rudy Gay free throws. Kevin Durant leads all rookies with seven points and has grabbed three rebounds, while Jeff Green has two points and two boards thus far.

9:52 1st Half: You know it's All-Star Weekend when ... Daniel Gibson hits a three-pointer and high fives teammate LeBron James, sitting courtside ... no fewer than five NBA mascots are dunking during a timeout ... multiple passes have sailed over the intended receiver's hands and into the first row.

Kevin Durant is the lone rookie to go the distance so far and has done a nice job creating opints for hismelf and looks for his teammates. He and Brandon Roy have a nice little duel going at both ends. Obviously, this game is about offense and highlights, but so far it has been recognizable as a regular basketball game and it should stay that way as long as it is close (currently Sophomores 29, Rookies 26).

4:43 1st Half: The Sophomores have pulled out to a 45-40 lead almost solely on the hot shooting of Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson. Gibson hit five of his first six three-point attempts, accounting for all 15 of his points (a game high), before finally missing a moment ago. The Rookies have actually been playing pretty well, but they're trading twos for threes right now.

Halftime: The Sophs pulled away late in the first half and, despite Kevin Durant finishing an alley-oop from Mike Conley just before the buzzer, they lead the Rookies 66-52 at the midway point. Here's hoping the Rookies put together a comebakc, not so much because I'm pulling for Durant and Jeff Green as because this game is so much more entertaining when it is competitive.

Durant leads all rookies with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting and has added five boards. Green has had a rougher go, scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting with three rebounds.

Now, the players have cleared the court and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks has taken center stage for a halftime performance.

15:45 2nd Half: For the first time tonight, a coach has called a timeout. It's Rookies head man Darrell Walker who's forced to take time with the Sophomores pulling out to a 19-point edge early in the second half. I forgot to mention the incredible statistic that the Sophomores had only two turnovers in the entire first half. They've gotten a little sloppier since then, but they also hold an 11-0 advantage in three-pointers; the Rookies have attempted only one triple.

That has something to do with the way the two rosters are constructed. The Rookies have only one true piont guard (Juan Carlos Navarro) and primarily swingmen and big guys. The Sophomores are guard-heavy, with only three bigs on the roster and two true point guards along with two others who can play the position. So it's no surprise threes and turnovers have favored the second-year pros.

7:40 2nd Half: Wow, that was a long stretch between timeouts. Jeff Green got a transition dunk courtesy Kevin Durant after a Durant steal, and that seems to have helped him get going. Green hit the first three of the night for the Rookies and now has nine points and five boards. Durant, with 23 points and eight rebounds, now leads the Rookies in both categories.

4:01 2nd Half: The Rookies have been trading baskets the last few minutes and have been unable to make a dent in the Sophomores' 20-point lead. With just a tick over four minutes left to play, it's 116-96 Sophomores. With the outcome no longer in question, I'm heading down to the media level to conduct postgame interviews with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. I'll have a wrap-up post after that concludes.

Final: The Sophomores take this one going away, 136-109. There's no shame in losing for the Rookies, as this is the sixth straight T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam that has gone to the more experienced Sophomores. Daniel Gibson won MVP honors on the strength of his 11 three-pointers. No typo there - 11. All 20 of his attempts came from behind the three-point line and he shot 55% on them. Not bad when they count for three points. Gibson made more threes than the entire Rookie team took (nine).

As for your Sonics, they acquitted themselves nicely in defeat. Kevin Durant led the rookies with 23 points, shot 10-of-19 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out four assists. Jeff Green actually ended up playing the most minutes of any player (34:24) and scored nine points, adding five rebounds.

That wraps up All-Star Weekend for Durant and Green, at least on the court. After enjoying their last evening in New Orleans, both are due out tomorrow morning. Durant will be going to Austin and then on to see his former Texas Longhorns teammates play at Baylor. Green is headed home to Washington, D.C. and looking forward to seeing his niece.

Don't think SUPERSONICS.COM is finished, however. I'll be here through the weekend and while the coverage won't be as intense as today's, I'll still follow the action of All-Star Saturday Night and Sunday's main event. There's a Seattle tie remaining as Portland guard Brandon Roy makes his All-Star debut. So keep checking out Sonics Beat throughout the weekend.

Green T-Mobile Event

Sonics rookie Jeff Green's busy Friday morning continued when he joined three of his fellow rookies - Memphis' Mike Conley, Atlanta's Al Horford and Houston's Luis Scola - to star in a T-Mobile event at Center Court at the NBA's Jam Session. About 30 lucky fans were divided into four teams, one for each player, and competed to make 10 shots from the elbow and then the wing.

Despite the best efforts of the rookies, I'm afraid there wasn't a lot of NBA talent on display. Green was rooting hard for his team to connect for the first time, and it finally happened at the end of this clip.

Everyone had a lot of fun, and the event really wasn't quite as much about the competition as it was the chance for the fans to meet the players. Afterwards, Green posed for photos.

Rookies Practice

After finishing up with their NBA Cares project, the Rookie Team headed to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to practice for tonight's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. When I arrived, the Sophomores were just finishing up on the court. Boston Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau, who will coach the Sophomores, put in some plays.

At 10:30, it was time for the media to rush on to the court for a half-hour of interviews. The Rookies and Sophomores don't draw quite as much attention as the All-Stars, so there was a chance to get one-on-ones with most players. The international media contingent, however, was most definitely out in full force (I rode over to the Convention Center with two French journalists). Kevin Durant did a brief segment live on NBA TV.

Here's some video of Durant and Jeff Green meeting the press (the audio is a little weak, so tune up your volume).

As for practice, there wasn't much of that for the rookies, coached by New Orleans Assistant Coach (and one-time Kevin Calabro partner) Darrell Walker. They split into two teams for some shooting drills and that was about that. So Thibodaeu, from the Jeff Van Gundy school of heavy preparation, seems to be taking a different approach from Walker.

Make no mistake, though, these guys are here to have fun but they do want to win.

"Hopefully we can pull out a win," said Green. "The rookies haven't been winning as of late, the past five years, so hopefully we can come in and get a victory."

This weekend is also about fun, and while both Sonics rookies have jam-packed schedules while in New Orleans, they've enjoyed the experience. Durant and Rudy Gay played pool against Chris Tucker (apparently not very good) and Green has enjoyed meeting some of the All-Stars, including Caron Butler, and hanging out with his fellow rookies.

Listen to audio from Durant and Green. Interesting note: When I asked about which rookies they were excited to play with, both Durant and Green cited Sprite Slam Dunk participant Jamario Moon of the Toronto Raptors. They'll be looking to get Moon some lobs at the rim.

Durant and Green Participate in Day of Service

Today is the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service in New Orleans, and the red t-shirts worn by volunteers are omnipresent. Players are taking part as well, and Sonics rookies Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are no exceptions.

This morning, Durant and Green joined their teammates on the Rookie Team in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam to help Hands-On New Orleans put together school supply kits and mailboxes for local families in need. Durant and Green were primarily assigned to mailbox duty, drilling holes. It was Green's first time using an electric drill, but he still claimed to have superior technique to Durant - these guys compete at everything.

Check out some videos. Here is Green, a "pro," working the drill.

And Durant:

The both of them working together:

"It means a lot to me to come back and help," said Durant. "This city has been through a lot. A lot of people think it's just basketball, but here in the NBA we care about trying to rebuild this city. I think they're doing a great job of doing that and everybody's helping out very well."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All-Star Memories

With Kevin Durant and Jeff Green due to make some All-Star memories this weekend, I took the time to ask them before they left about their favorite memories of watching All-Star Weekend in the past.

Green had a hard time picking a favorite memory.

"I guess watching (Michael) Jordan in his last All-Star Game (in 2003) or when Tracy McGrady threw it off the glass," he said. "There's a lot of highlights that happen throughout every All-Star year - I can't just name one."

As far as All-Star Saturday Night, he remembered a local favorite.

"Watching Nate Robinson dunk was kinda interesting," said Green. "I've never seen a guy his height get up the way he does. That's probably one that sticks out in my mind."

Durant remembered back to 2001, when the All-Star Game came to his native Washington, D.C.

"I think my favorite of all time is when they played in D.C. and Stephon Marbury hit the game-winner when he was with the Nets," Durant said. "I went to the Jam Session as a little kid. I was in seventh grade. I remember back then it was phenomenal. I had the best time of my life. I remember I was in the car going home, listening to the All-Star Game. Stephon Marbury hit the shot at the buzzer and my brother and I just went crazy. It felt like it was a championship game. It's something that stuck out with me and I'll always remember the rest of my life."

So what would the 12-year-old Kevin Durant have said if you would have told him that, years later, he would be part of the festivities of All-Star Weekend?

"If you told me back then I would be in the Rookie Game or I would be in the NBA, I would have looked at you like you were crazy," he said. "It's all a blessing. It's something that I've worked for and I've got to continue to work. Hopefully someday I'll be an All-Star; I've got to continue to work."

Hello From New Orleans

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS - The Sonics Beat blog comes to you live from the Big Easy, the site of the 2008 NBA All-Star Game. We'll be on the scene all weekend long with complete coverage of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green playing in tomorrow's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam and all the other action we've come to associate with All-Star Weekend, culminating in the 57th Annual NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

It's hard to forget that the All-Star Game is here. All of the downtown business and hotel district has been rebranded to celebrate All-Stars and the NBA. The sides of several buildings have been taken over by NBA-related billboards, and the player hotel is heavily decorated. Even the keycard for my hotel room features the All-Star logo.

The Louis Armstrong International Airport provided my first taste of the All-Star mania and I took a quick video of one banner. I'm going to embed it, but you probably shouldn't bother clicking. I'm mostly testing for when we get some useful video tomorrow.

I knew early in the trip there were going to be a lot of All-Star sightings. Lenny Wilkens was on my flight to Houston. Then, as I checked in to my hotel, Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe was doing the same just to my left. (Shouldn't he be working on a trade?)

Anyways, Durant and Green have been here all day, running the gauntlet for NBA Entertainment, getting their photos taken, doing video and more. In the photo at top, Durant joined with LeBron James, Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks, Brandon Roy and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to help Nike reopen the New Orleans Parks and Recreation's St. Bernard Community Center.

As you see at left, Green took time out from his busy day to sign an autograph for a young fan. (Photo credit: Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tomorrow will be busy for the Sonics rookies as well. After participating in the NBA Cares Day of Service in the morning, they'll have practice with the Rookie Team and then the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. on TNT. We'll be blogging all day long, so make sure to check out SUPERSONICS.COM for the latest from New Orleans.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat - 2/13 vs. Utah

Sonics guard Luke Ridnour continued his march up the list of all-time Sonics assist leaders Friday. With five assists, Ridnour passed Brent Barry (1,668) for eighth place in Sonics history. Ridnour now has 1,671 assists.

It will be a while before Ridnour makes any further progress, however. Slick Watts, who sits in seventh, is 603 assists ahead of Ridnour.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gelabale Returns from Idaho

Mickael Gelabale
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty

The Sonics recalled Mickael Gelabale from the Idaho Stampede Tuesday and will have him available Wednesday, when they host the Utah Jazz in their pre-All-Star finale. The recall was on schedule, as the Sonics planned all along to have Gelabale play six games in Idaho and return before the D-League's All-Star break.

In six games, Gelabale averaged 17.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He shot an impressive 59.7% from the field and 7-of-20 (35.0%) from three-point range.

"Gelly was way more good than bad, just kind of stuck out - which he should, somebody who's better than the players in that league," said Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. "That's good. He had a couple of games where he had a really good half and a fair half. You'd like to see him go down and put two halves together all six times, but particularly the first game that's probably hard to do. I think in general he went down and acquitted himself very well."

While the Sonics already have a crowded rotation, Carlesimo said the Sonics want to make sure they get Gelabale in the mix at some point during the second half of the season to get a better look at him at the NBA level.

Mouhamed Sene is also on his way back to Seattle, but just for the All-Star break. The Sonics are pleased with the progress Sene is making playing for the Stampede. Sene has averaged 11.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 18 games, shooting 55.3%.

As for the Stampede, the team saw its D-League-record 18-game winning streak snapped by Los Angeles on Saturday and then lost against Monday at Utah. Still, Idaho goes into the All-Star break as the league's top team by three games at 23-7. Stampede Head Coach Bryan Gates, who worked as an assistant for the Sonics during summer-league play, will coach in Saturday's D-League All-Star Game in New Orleans.

In other news from Sonics practice, Carlesimo indicated it was possible center Robert Swift might move into the rotation at some point after the All-Star break, which could be a natural break in the schedule.

"When we come back," said Carlesimo, "maybe start over and say we've got to make some changes."

Carlesimo was generally pleased with the way his team responded to comming back to practice this week after taking the weekend off.

"We actually had two pretty good practices considering the days off," he said. "It was a little slow starting, but I think today was good."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sonics Back at Practice After Two-Day Break

With a rare weekend off during the middle of the NBA season, the Sonics took both Saturday and Sunday off after playing in Phoenix on Friday. They still have two practices, today and tomorrow, before taking on the Utah Jazz Wednesday in their last game before the All-Star break.

Forward Chris Wilcox thought the break was helpful.

"Guys can get their legs back and we can work on some things in practice," he said.

Coming off the two days of rest, the Sonics had their largest practice contingent at The Furtado Center in some time. Guard Delonte West, whose knee was bothering him, was the only player unable to practice. That allowed Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo to run 5-on-5 scrimmages, a rarity at this point of the season.

How did the team look?

"Not bad, actually," said Carlesimo. "Not as bad as I would have thought. We didn't really get too much going other than some conditioning or some scrimmaging. It wasn't as ragged as you would sometimes expect after two days. I thought they were decent; I wouldn't say they were excellent, but they were better than I thought they might be."

The scrimmaging is particularly useful for center Robert Swift, who continues to work back into shape. Swift made his return to the court a week ago against Chicago, but did not see action in either of the last two Sonics games. Swift needs court time both for his conditioning and to get his game timing back, but that on-the-job training is tough to do during games.

"We got 18 minutes of clock time," Carlesimo said. "Robert may have played all of it; you'd have to ask (Assistant Coach) Ralph (Lewis). There were times it looked like he labored, but other times it looked like he was hanging in, doing a decent job."

Swift had one impressive sequence with the media watching where he blocked a shot on one end (possibly goaltending in the process, but showing the ability to get up either way) and then scored in the post with his left hand off the glass on the other end. Swift drew the foul and finished the three-point play.

The Sonics Front Office is Going to be Busy in June

Over on TrueHoop, Henry Abbott had the folks in research put together what the draft order would be for the 2008 NBA Draft if today was the end of the season.

It's a useful reminder that the Sonics have been busy stockpiling draft picks. In addition to their own first- and second-round picks, the Sonics have added:

- Phoenix's first-round pick (28 if the season ended today) from the Kurt Thomas trade
- the better of Portland's or Boston's second-round picks (48) via last year's draft-night deal with Boston
- Denver's second-round pick (52) from the Earl Watson four-way deal in 2006
- the lesser of New Orleans' or Houston's second-round picks (57) from Houston via last year's deal that sent a second-round pick used on Carl Landry to the Rockets

In total, the Sonics will go into the draft with a league-high six picks, including three of the top 33.

Beyond 2008, the Sonics own New Jersey's 2009 second-round pick from the Mikki Moore trade and will also get Phoenix's first-rounder in 2010 to complete the Thomas deal.

Durant on Rome is Burning

Sonics rookie Kevin Durant will be live on ESPN's Rome is Burning with Jim Rome today at 1:30 p.m. Tune in to see what Durant has to see about the upcoming All-Star Weekend and more!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/8 vs. Phoenix

The Sonics and the Suns were the only two teams to win the Pacific Division in a six-year stretch from 1992-93 through 1997-98. Phoenix won division titles in 1992-93 and 1994-95; the Sonics claimed the crown in 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98. The two years the Suns won the division, the Sonics finished second. Phoenix finished second behind the Sonics in 1993-94.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Opposing View - 2/6 vs. Sacramento

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we get two. Tom Ziller runs one of my daily NBA reads,, and Andrew Nicholson is the fine beat writer for Don't forget to check out the blog kept by Sam Amick, who covers the Kings for the Sacramento Bee.

Brad Miller has been on fire recently. What has been the key?
Ziller: Miller's been terrific all season, particularly the past few weeks. This string of big rebounding games has not, surprisingly, been a fluke - he got his 20/20 games against Emeka Okafor and Ben Wallace. He's been been working hard throughout the games, particularly in the fourth quarter, to establish position and go after caroms. It sounds simple ... but it's something Brad's lacked the the season-and-a-half. On offense, having Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin has clearly made a difference in terms of opening up the floor for him. When it was the Beno Udrih and John Salmons Show, Miller was much less involved. But he has a comfort zone with each of Martin and Bibby (separately and together as a trio) to make marvelous differences on offense.

Nicholson: Miller dedicated himself to eating healthy and a more stringent training regimen in the off-season, but he didn't stop there. Miller maintains a healthy diet, still works out daily and always hits the weight room on game days. When he was recently asked what else he has done besides 'eating better and working out?' Miller smiled and replied, 'You'd be surprised how much those things help.' The combination of the two has led to Miller playing with increased confidence. It's also helped that the Kings finally have a healthy starting five. I didn't want to regurgitate the story I just wrote on Miller this week, but for a more complete answer check out Miller's Seeing 20/20 on

True or false: Kevin Martin is the most underrated player in the NBA.
Ziller: I'll vote true every single time, even if it's false. Call me a homer. No, seriously: Objectively, Martin's got to be up there. He has the scoring credentials on a per-minute and per-game basis now to mentioned with the tip-top two-guards in the league, and he manages all those points with insane efficiency. He's threatening to go a third straight season with a True Shooting percentage over .600; the only guard whose done that in the last two decades is Reggie Miller. Martin's definitely the least well-known centerpiece in the league, I'll say that. His name is getting said more every day (typically the morning after he comes to your town), but few have a clue how good this kid is. (Oh, he just turned 25. He could score 30 a night within the next few years.)

Nicholson's Reply: True. Many basketball fans outside of the Sacramento region still don't know who the sharpshooting Kings guard is. But every scout and coaching staff around the league knows all about the Kings number 23. Had he not missed 17 games due to a strained right groin, Martin would very likely be in the Big Easy for the All-Star game. Despite that reality, Martin sees it as an opportunity to continue to study film, work on his game and grow as an all-around player. Or, as the reserved yet confident Martin has said, "I always want to develop and I don't even feel like I'm in my prime ... I feel like I'm getting there. I want to be a great player and that's what I'm going to work hard to do."

For the Kings to be threatening .500 despite the injuries they have suffered, what does that say about Reggie Theus' coaching job?
It says that Theus has been able to get the team to play hard and play together. More importantly, here is how Theus explained the team's success in spite of the adversity: "When I talk to guys about basketball, I think they read me, I think they understand," Theus said of motivating a blue-collar team. "We have a good communication line going and I think the trust is there for our staff. And they know for me, it's all about the game. But at the same time, it takes certain individuals to accept that. When these guys want to win, they want to listen. They want to do the right things. That's why we've been able to be successful. Everybody has done their part." For more on Theus' first-half of the season success in Sacramento please check out Theus Practicing What He Preaches on

Do you see the Kings making a move before the trade deadline?
Ziller: I think it's only a matter of time before Ron Artest gets moved. At this point, not even Reggie Theus would be discouraged by seeing Ron traded for spare parts (I think). The difference between Artest and John Salmons is evident, but Artest cannot be in the franchise's long-term plans and the swing position is the most well-stocked for the Kings. As for Mike Bibby ... that always seems to have more to do with the teams pursuing him than Geoff Petrie's own intentions. Which is to say I have no idea if he'll get traded. Watch for Mikki Moore and Miller as darkhorse trade candidates.

What don't we know but should about the Kings?
Ziller: The Kings are incredibly fun to watch, even (I'm told) for opposition fans. Martin is objective silk, Francisco Garcia would run through walls where none existed, Spencer Hawes is the second coming of Sam Perkins, Mikki has dunked on the capital city of every U.N.-recognized nation, Bibby can choreograph his 30-point explosions, and Miller/Salmons/Artest have hearts of lions. You saw about two minutes of it a few weeks ago; try to enjoy all 48 minutes of Sacramento's brand of barbarianism.

Nicholson: The Kings have one of the most talented benches in the league. A significant factor that made the Kings relatively successful in the wake of numerous injuries was the team's depth. John Salmons (15.1 points per game), Francisco Garcia (12.4 ppg) and Beno Udrih (12.6) could be starters for a number of NBA teams as they showed when the opportunity presented itself. Now they are the first three off the Kings bench. Following them are Seattle native Spencer Hawes, scoring combo guard Quincy Douby, athletic big man Justin Williams, defensive stopper (and a glue guy) Dahntay Jones and veteran Kenny Thomas.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/6 at Sacramento

With two 20-20 efforts in the last three games (22 points and 21 rebounds Jan. 30 vs. Charlotte; 22 points and 20 rebounds Feb. 2 vs. Chicago), Brad Miller has joined Chris Webber as the only players with multiple 20-20 games for the Kings since they moved to Sacramento.

Green Returns to Practice

The Sonics had several players miss Tuesday's practice, but the big story was that rookie forward Jeff Green did participate. Green has missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle.

"Jeff practiced for the first time," said Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. "He seemed alright. If he's good tomorrow, hopefully he'll be able to play also."

Guard Delonte West sat out with a left quad strain and Wally Szczerbiak was limited by his sprained left ankle (though Szczerbiak was able to play against Chicago Monday). Luke Ridnour (sprained right ankle) was also limited and Kurt Thomas sat out after suffering a scratched eye during Monday's game.

West's injury may be the most serious of the group.

Thomas declared his eye better. "I've just got to keep putting drops in there," he said. "I'll get it checked out tomorrow morning in Sacramento to make sure everything's fine, but it shouldn't be a problem."

- Szczerbiak and Ridnour regularly shoot free throws together at the end of practice at the basket nearest the media, and have a friendly competition going with regards to their shooting in practice and in games. Szczerbiak lamented missing two free throws against the Bulls in eight attempts. Szczerbiak is shooting 84.4% from the free-throw line, but Ridnour is making 90.5% of his attempts.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/4 vs. Chicago

With Jeff Green missing Saturday's win over New York with a sprained left ankle, no Sonics player has played in all 47 of the team's games this season. Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Damien Wilkins all played in the team's first 44 games, but Wilkins missed Tuesday's game and Szczerbiak missed Thursday's before Green's injury.

Green, Wilkins Kevin Durant and Earl Watson have missed one game apiece.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Opposing View - 2/2 vs. 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 Also see's preview of tonight's game and the Posting and Toasting blog. And while we're talking KnickerBlogger, don't forget to check out their stats page daily for the latest advanced metrics.

The Knicks seemed to find a better rhythm in January. What was the difference?
One difference was an easier schedule. They beat the Nets, Heat, Wizards and Sixers in a six-game span. And throw in a "any-team-can-win-on-any-night" win against the Pistons, and they looked good for a stretch.

But the Knicks did improve slightly. They were competetive on a tough west coast trip against the Warriors, Lakers, and Jazz, albeit all losses. Part of the reason is Isiah giving more burn to defensive minded players. The Knicks have an surplus of scorers and a dearth of defenders. But recently Coach Thomas has given more playing time to Jared Jeffries, Fred Jones, and Mardy Collins. The NBA is about team balance, and these players have value on a defensively-starved team like New York.

Seattle native Nate Robinson is playing his best basketball. Besides playing time, what's behind the stretch?
He's maturing as a player. Nate was the MVP of the summer league, so the talent is there. With Marbury out, he's the main PG on the team, which is difference from his previous role. In the past Robinson was frequently the shooting guard on offense. These days Nate frequently runs the offense, and he's doing a good job balancing finding his own shot with distributing the ball to his teammates. Additionally this year, Nate also has become more mature mentally. He's less likely to let his emotions take over, which is a departure from the past.

If the Knicks need a bucket late in the game, who will they go to?
Most likely Jamal Crawford. Isiah Thomas doesn't keep Nate Robinson in the final minutes of a game for defensive purposes. Eddy Curry has largely been ineffective, because defenses are more frequently exploiting his weaknesses. They either double-team him to take advantage of his lack of passing, or they flop to draw a charge against him. The other person you might see take a late shot is Zach Randolph. Although billed as a power forward who likes to earn his keep in the paint, Randolph has fallen in love with his jump shot.

In 100 words or less, why should the Knicks free David Lee?
Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph play better with Lee than they do with each other. Lee has earned the nickname "Good Things" because that's what happens to the Knicks with him on the floor. He compliments his teammates better than either Curry or Randolph. He doesn't need the ball often, he doesn't turn it over, he passes well, and he's great in finishing around the hoop. The Knicks know what they have with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. It's time to find what they have with David Lee.

(88 words.)

What don't we know but should about the Knicks?
They're playing more zone lately. They're giving more minutes to defenders. They're turning the ball over less on offense. But they're still a bad team. You can attack them in the middle because they don't have a shot blocker in the front court. They are still one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 2/2 vs. New York

The Knicks media notes report that Seattle natives and Knicks guards Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson are currently the NBA’s only set of teammates who also played together in high school. During Jamal’s senior year and Nate’s freshman year at Rainier Beach 1998-99, they were teammates. The last pair of players to play together on the same team in both high school and the NBA were Muggsy Bogues and David Wingate who played at Dunbar HS in Baltimore, Mary. and with the Charlotte Hornets from 1993-95.

Quiet Practice for Sonics

With games every other day during this homestand and some players banged up, the Sonics have been somewhat limited in what they can do during recent practices. Today, we saw them dummy through some plays in preparison for New York's visit tomorrow before wrapping up the session.

Four players were sidelined for the Sonics:
- forward Nick Collison (right calf strain)
- forward Jeff Green (sprained left ankle)
- forward Wally Szczerbiak (sprained right ankle)
- center Kurt Thomas (left quad tendon strain)

All four players are considered game-time decisions against the Knicks.

Take a listen to what P.J. Carlesimo had to say after practice.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/31 vs. Cleveland

Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour continues to move up the team's all-time assist leaderboard. On Tuesday, Ridnour handed out the 1,653rd assist of his Sonics career, moving him past Detlef Schrempf and all alone into eighth place in franchise history.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/29 vs. San Antonio

The Sonics shot 52.6% from the field in their Nov. 25 with San Antonio, which was the first time in 2007-08 they had topped 50% shooting. The Sonics have shot at least 50% five times this season, going 3-2 (beating New York, Toronto and Minnesota and losing to the Spurs and Houston).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Opposing View - 1/27 vs. Sacramento

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Tom Ziller runs one of my daily NBA reads,, and is the premier expert on the Kings. Don't forget to check out and the blog kept by Sam Amick, the outstanding beat writer for the Sacramento Bee. To Tom's answers.

Given the team's injuries, how impressive is it that the Kings are still around .500?
The Kings' relative success has been great and unexpected. Particularly, when both Kevin Martin and Ron Artest were sidelined, no one expected the Kings to stay afloat... but they did. The injuries, if there's a silver lining, have gotten Beno Udrih to Sacramento and shown us how good John Salmons and Francisco Garcia can be, and have also allowed a showcase for Brad Miller's revived skill set.

How much of a revelation has John Salmons been this season?
Salmons went from 'mistake' to 'vital' real fast. His shooting has been the biggest shock, I'd say. He's also shown an ability to get to the rim regularly and finish well, but this is the first time in his career he's consistently knocked down a stepback mid-range shot or a catch-and-shoot three. If you told me three Kings would shoot 40% from three by midseason, I'd understand Martin and Garcia. I'd call you a liar if you mentioned Salmons.

How about Beno Udrih?
I'm still torn on Beno. He's been phenomenal (especially when you consider the woeful play before he came to town). But is he an above-average starting point guard in this league? If not, I wonder if his success might otherwise prevent the team from going out and getting a top-flight PG in the draft or free agency. But still, he's been great and has handled Mike Bibby's return well. He could use some more minutes, though.

Can the Kings be stout enough defensively to contend with this group of post players?
Inside defense has been the Kings overwhelming problem all season, and Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox and Kurt Thomas should have plenty of success. The flip, of course, comes with Sacramento's perimeter advantage. I'd predict Reggie Theus will go to his zone early and often, and dare the Sonics bigs to step out or the guards to shoot away (which Kevin Durant shouldn't have a problem doing).

What don't we know but should about the Kings?
Sonics fan know the game well, so they might know this, but: Brad Miller has had a sensational season. If you're expecting the slow, inactive, timid Miller of last season, think again. He still has defensive problems and he's not going to post anyone up frequently. But his shot has been smooth, his passing is coming back, he's rebounding as well as he has in four years, and he's rotating well enough on the pick-and-roll. You can't focus on the wings and ignore Miller, or he'll beat you.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/27 vs. Sacramento

Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo and Sacramento's Reggie Theus are the only active NBA head coaches who went directly from the NCAA coaching ranks to their first NBA head-coaching job.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Opposing View - 1/25 vs. Atlanta

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Micah Hart of and the excellent Hawks BasketBlog talks about a possible playoff berth and more. Also see a nice feature on the current West Coast road trip. Sekou Smith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution runs one of the best beat writer blogs in the league, so give it a look.

How important would it be for the Hawks to make the playoffs?
It'd be huge. You never want to be known as the franchise with the longest playoff drought, and after the Warriors made it last season that's exactly where we are. I think, even with the team's recent slide, they are in very good shape to make the postseason. The goal is to not only make the postseason, but try to avoid the #7 or #8 seed and a first-round match-up with the Celtics or Pistons. But I imagine we'll take what we can get.

What's been the difference for Bremerton native Marvin Williams in his third and best season?
His confidence. Marvin's always had the talent, but in the past he was reluctant to assert himself on the offensive end. This year he is looking for his shot more often, and his aggressiveness going to the basket has paid off as he gets to the free-throw line the second most on the team behind Josh Smith. Marvin has a bright, bright future in this league.

We've heard plenty about rookies here in Seattle. How is No. 3 pick Al Horford coming along?
Horford has been everything the team has asked for and more. He is a tenacious rebounder and an underrated scorer, and he definitely has the talent to be in the 20/10 range in his career. He doesn't get a ton of touches, but as he gets more comfortable with his repertoire of moves (he seems to get called for traveling once a game) he'll become a much bigger part of what the team does offensively. What impresses me the most about him is his basketball IQ. He rarely makes a bad decision, and he leads the break as well as (if not better than) any guard in the league. Much like Kevin Durant, he has the talent to play in several All-Star games in his career.

How much has Anthony Johnson's steady play at the point helped the Hawks?
AJ has been a revelation this season, and I'd say he's been every bit as important to the team's performance as anyone else on the roster. Pretty impressive for a guy who appeared to be the odd man out when the season began. The key to his play is his ability to avoid mistakes - currently he is fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.82, and while he isn't a big scorer he is enough of a threat to keep opposing teams honest. With injuries all around him at the point guard position, AJ has parlayed his minutes into some of the best basketball of his career.

What don't we know but should about the Hawks?
This team is talented enough to make some noise in the East, if they can ever put it all together. Even with the current losing skid, there is no doubt that given the right circumstances, they could pull off something similar to what the Warriors did last season in the West. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but confidence on a young team is a funny thing. Right now I don't think they believe they can go out and win every game they play, but if they could string together a few victories, anything is possible - just look what is happening in Portland. Maybe it won't happen this year, but if it does, just know that you heard it here first

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat - 1/25 vs. Atlanta

Both the Sonics and Hawks saw their individual season high for scoring set in Seattle's 126-123 double-OT victory Nov. 16 at Philips Arena. Damien Wilkins scored 41 points to lead the Sonics, while Joe Johnson had 39 points for Atlanta.

Notebook: Carlesimo on Sene's Progress

I didn't get to this last night, but Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo talked before the game with Houston about the progress of center Mouhamed Sene in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede.

"He's doing very, very well," said Carlesimo. "I talked to him when he was in Bakersfield or going to Bakersfield the other day. I think in the beginning he understood, but he probably didn't embrace it. I think being there now and getting the regular minutes, he really likes it. We've had a lot of guys on Sam (Presti)'s side go down - (Director of Pro Player Personnel) Billy Branch has been down, (Director of Basketball Technology) Paul (Rivers) has been down, (Assistant GM) Rich (Cho) has been down. I think we've got to get one of our guys (coaching staff) down right now (during the homestand) so we can see him."

Carlesimo said the Sonics have not discussed when to bring Sene back to the NBA.

"I think he's doing way more good there and it's doing way more good for him than it would be here," he said. I guess we've got to balance - we don't want him to forget everybody's name and stuff like that. It's really a good thing."

- Sonics center Robert Swift went through the entire practice with the team as he works his way back into action after lingering aftereffects of his ACL surgery sidelined him in mid-November. Swift has been doing some 1-on-0 drills, but this was the most extensively he has worked with the team since then. Swift went through the entire practice of just under an hour, including a shell drill and a live transition defense drill.

"He looked OK," said Carlesimo. "He showed a little bit of rust, but I think it's good news he didn't feel anything during it. It will also be interesting to see what he's like tomorrow and the next day."

The Sonics will continue to be cautious with Swift's rehabilitation as he progresses toward a return to game action.

- With the team healthy besides Swift, Carlesimo has had to make decisions on his rotation to leave it at a manageable number.

"I'm trying to play nine guys for the most part," he explained, "depending on foul trouble and depending on matchups."

At this point, Luke Ridnour has stepped into the role of backup point guard, with Wally Szczerbiak and Damien Wilkins coming off the bench on the wings and Chris Wilcox up front. However, that can be subject to change depending on matchups and foul trouble. Johan Petro played extended minutes in both matchups against Houston as Sonics big men got into foul trouble defending Yao Ming. Meanwhile, guard Delonte West matched up with Dallas' smaller backcourt on Saturday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/23 vs. Houston

The last time the Sonics played a home-and-home set was against the Los Angeles Clippers last February 28 and March 1. They lost at L.A. 96-91 before returning home to beat the Clippers 96-89.

Houston won Monday's first game of this home-and-home series 96-89.

(Moral of the story: Score 96 points and win!)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Carlesimo on KJR

Tune in to hear Sonics Head Coach PJ Carlesimo talk about his team at the midway point of the season. Carlesimo will be on Mitch in the Morning on KJR 950 AM on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 8:15 a.m.

UPDATE: Listen to Carlesimo on with Mitch.