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.

Opposing View: 1/21 at Houston

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Damien Pierce, who does a great job of covering the team for, joins us today. In my preview, I touched on the key role played by Houston's draft picks, and that's the subject of's preview. Now, to the questions.

What does Tracy McGrady's return to the lineup mean to the team?
Obviously, it will probably take a few games for McGrady to regain his rhythm and get back in shape after a month-long layoff. But his presence alone certainly gives the Rockets a boost. He automatically commands attention on the perimeter, which should help open things up a little more for Yao Ming. That's really what the Rockets need from him. Over the past few games, the team has been trying to lean on Yao down the stretch, but they've had trouble getting the ball to him. With McGrady back, they'd have another option to finish games.

It doesn't seem like we've heard a lot about the Rockets defense, but statistically it's as good as any D save for Boston's. Does that fit what you're seeing from the defense?
The Rockets developed a reputation as one of the league's best defensive teams under Jeff Van Gundy. But since he's gone, I think the Rockets are getting less credit for their defensive effort. Obviously, the numbers suggest that's not fair. They have statistically remained one of the NBA's better defensive teams and have still won plenty of games this season relying on that. But with that said, I don't think they're perfect on defense. The Rockets have struggled with their transition defense in recent games. On Tuesday, they allowed Philadelphia to score 12 fast-break points in the fourth quarter. That's something that has to improve if the Rockets want to be considered one of the league's best.

Luis Scola has put together some big games but also seen his minutes fluctuate. Does he figure to play a bigger role for the Rockets as he adjusts to the NBA?
Luis Scola has had an up-and-down rookie campaign. He's shown flashes of what he could bring to the Rockets on a nightly basis, but like any rookie, he's spent much of his first season learning the NBA game. Scola is still figuring out how to play off Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and is learning the rule differences between the NBA and international play. He has struggled at times to avoid foul trouble. But since he's a guy used to playing in offenses with a ton of movement, he's looked great whenever the Rockets are moving the ball. I suspect that he's going to become a greater asset as the season progresses.

What have you seen from Seattle native Aaron Brooks in January as he's seen increased minutes?
The kid can fly. Just ask Tracy McGrady. McGrady said about a week ago that he thought Brooks was the fastest player in the NBA. In any case, the Rockets first-round pick has made the most of his opportunity. He got a chance to play about three weeks ago because Rick Adelman was hoping the point guard would help Houston pick up the tempo and get easier baskets in transition. Brooks has done that and because of that, he's remained in the rotation. He's still got to improve his decision-making and the Rockets expect him to shoot a higher percentage. But his speed alone will keep him in the rotation.

What don't we know but should about the Rockets?
The Rockets have done a much better job of winning without Tracy McGrady. Before this season, the Rockets were 11-42 when they played without T-Mac over the past three seasons. So far, they're 7-7 without the star this season. How have they done it? Better offensive movement. In the past, the Rockets struggled to win without McGrady because so much of the offense depended on McGrady's ability to generate looks for everyone else. But since the team is beginning to get comfortable with Rick Adelman's high-motion scheme, the supporting cast is beginning to find scoring opportunities within the offense rather than through an individual.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/21 at Houston

Rockets rookie Carl Landry had a streak of 11 consecutive field goals snapped Saturday against San Antonio. Landry had last missed on Dec. 9 against Toronto. In that game, Landry was 1-for-6 from the field against the Raptors; the rest of the season, he is 15-of-16 (93.8%).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/19 at Dallas

Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour has boosted his assist-to-turnover ratio recently. Through Dec. 19, Ridnour's assist-to-turnover ratio was just 1.61 (29 assists, 18 turnovers). Since then, however, Ridnour has handed out 27 assists against just five turnovers (5.4).

Durant Q&A

While the Sonics were in New Orleans earlier this week, went 1-on-1 with Sonics rookie Kevin Durant. Check it out. Texas is currently ranked 19th in the country and the
college season is getting into conference play. Do you miss the excitement of the Big 12, March Madness, and college basketball in general?
You know, I more miss my teammates than anything else, man. That was a great experience for me and the atmosphere was just a great atmosphere to play in. But I just miss my teammates, just joking around with them and having fun with them every day.

Opposing View: 1/18 at Memphis

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, we chat with Graham Kendrick of about a young Memphis squad. I also answered some questions for Graham about the Sonics.

3 Shades of Blue has done the best job blogging the Grizzlies on the Internets, including a recent theory that might explain the team's poor luck in close games this season. The Beale Street Blog provides another perspective on the Grizzlies. Also see Chris Herrington's Beyond the Arc Grizzlies blog.

Pau Gasol seems to have picked up his game lately. What's been the difference?
There’s a few factors that come into play here, beginning with health. Pau was dealing with nagging back and toe injuries through the first couple months of the season that really hampered him, but he’s shaken those off and appears to be healthy. But perhaps more than that is that he’s found his comfort zone in new head coach Marc Iavaroni’s system. Gasol mentioned just this week that he didn’t adapt to the new system as quickly as he would have liked, and the first couple of months of the season were spent trying to find his place in the offense. I also think he and Rudy Gay were trying to develop on-court chemistry in light of Gay’s explosion this season. That’s not to say there have been any issues between them, far from it. But Gasol and Gay had to figure out how to work off of each other, and they seem to be doing a much better job of that. For instance, they combined for 49 points and 21 rebounds in the team’s last game, an overtime loss to Cleveland on Tuesday. I think the numbers you see Gasol putting up this month are much more indicative of what he’ll do for the rest of the season than the numbers he put up in November and December.

Mike Conley has moved into the starting lineup in January. Are you seeing the flashes of brilliance and occasional rough patches from him to be expected of a point guard so obviously talented but also so inexperienced?
Right now the good is far outweighing the bad with Mike Conley. Perhaps one of the biggest compliments you can pay him right now is that you don’t even think about the fact he’s only 20 years old when you watch him play. When you consider that in the last four years he’s won three state titles in high school then went to the NCAA title game as a freshman starter, all of a sudden a midseason NBA game doesn’t seem so daunting. Mike’s biggest asset is his speed. He’s perfect for the up-tempo game Iavaroni has preached since his hiring, and he can get into the lane at will, where he’s adept at finishing. But on top of that, he plays in control, and has a knack for finding his teammates in the right spots at the right times. If there are any areas of concern, it’s that he’s still fairly slender, and bigger point guards can give him trouble. Furthermore, the knock on him coming out of college was a shaky shot, and while he’s been a solid shooter thus far, he needs to keep knocking them down to keep defenses from sagging and waiting for his dribble penetration. But all in all, he’s been as good as advertised.

When you look at the development of Rudy Gay between his first and second seasons, what stands out?
There’s a few things that stand out, most notably a much-improved three-point shot that’s added another dimension to his game. Gay is now hurting teams inside and out. In fact, our intrepid PR department tells me he’s the only player in the NBA who has both at least 50 three-pointers made and dunks. Along with his outside shot, another reason for his improvement is his decision-making. As a rookie last season, too often he was tentative. He’d get the ball, and would overthink everything, trying not to mess up rather than just do what came naturally to him. There was no flow to his game, it was paralysis by analysis. But this season, that’s gone. He’s much more decisive with the ball, but more importantly, that decisiveness usually produces positive results.

Who's the best shooter on the Grizzlies - Mike Miller or Juan Carlos Navarro?
That’s like asking who you prefer watching between Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, you can’t go wrong either way. Right now the edge goes to Mike Miller, who’s been consistently good all season and is making 42.9% of his three-point attempts. Navarro’s been a bit up and down this year, which is to be expected as an NBA rookie making the transition from the Spanish league, but when he’s locked in, he’s fun to watch. Despite being a little undersized for the two-guard spot at 6-3, Navarro doesn’t need much room to get his shot off because his release is so fast, and he doesn’t necessarily need to set his feet. He’s made lots of his threes on the run or off-balance, and sometimes you just have to shake your head at some of the shots he makes. Plus, and this has to count for something, his nickname of La Bomba (which is actually a reference to his patented running floater in the lane) has to be one of the best monikers in the league.

What don't we know but should about the Grizzlies?
What sticks out is an almost unbelievable record in games decided by three points or less: 1-9. It’s been amazing how this team just can’t catch a break in close games. Whether it’s been buzzer-beaters, poor execution or just bad luck, it seems like every time the Grizzlies are in a close game, something bad happens to them down the stretch. I suppose you can look at it two ways: a glass half-full person would say this is a young team hanging in and still learning how to close out games. A glass half-empty person would contend it’s a team that doesn’t know how to finish. As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But sooner or later you have to think the team will start pulling those close one out.

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/18 at Memphis

Tonight's game will be, as noted by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a celebration of rookies. Of the seven NBA rookies averaging at least 23.8 minutes per game, four will be on the court tonight: Sonics Kevin Durant (33.2 mpg, first) and Jeff Green (24.9 mpg, fifth) and Memphis' Mike Conley, Jr. (24.8 mpg, sixth) and Juan Carlos Navarro (23.8 mpg, seventh).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

D-League Update: 1/17/08

With your humble blogger back in Seattle, the D-League Showcase wrapped up this evening and the host Idaho Stampede closed things out with a 117-93 blowout victory over the "home" team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. That's the 11th straight win for the Stampede, who have not lost since the Sonics assigned center Mouhamed Sene to Idaho.

Sene played a big role in tonight's win. In 28 minutes of action, Sene made all six of his shot attempts, scoring 14 points. He grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked three shots and even picked up an assist and a steal before fouling out.

Here's what Matt Wurst had to say about Sene in the "Scouting the Showcase" blog on the D-League's Web site:

"One of the eight remaining NBA assignees, Sene is a second-year forward with the Sonics and one of the best raw athletes we have seen here in four days. He spent some time in the D-League last season, but has really improved since then. Very powerful around the rim, Sene also rebounds and blocks shots like an NBA player.

"After three quarters, he has 14 points and 13 rebounds and is a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor. I also think he just pulled a rebound off the top of the backboard. Not sure if he left change up there, though."

Thanks for the scouting report, Matt, though I think Todd Gallagher has some thoughts on making change off the backboard for you.

NBA Names Sonics Retailer of the Year


January 17, 2008
SEATTLE - The Seattle SuperSonics are the NBA’s Retailer of the Year for the 2006-07 season. The team was chosen for being a leader in NBA retail best practices such as personalized jersey kiosks , guest care, store layout and pricing.

The Sonics were also recognized for having strong merchandise per capita sales figures, NBA secret shopping scores, new promotions such as the Extreme Fan Makeover and Featured Items of the Week, selection of NBA-licensed products, merchandising in the arena and the store and an increase in visits.

“We are honored the NBA has selected the Seattle Sonics retail operation as the NBA's Retailer of the Year,” said John Croley, the Sonics & Storm Vice President of Facility Sales and Services. “Awards like this are not won without a lot of hard work and dedication from outstanding employees. I congratulate our Director of Merchandising, Jeremy Owen, for his management, oversight and leadership of our merchandising operation and his team of employees. Our goal in our retail operation is to serve our fans. Being recognized as the best in the league is an added bonus.”

NBA Retailer of the Year Award history:
2001-02 AEG – L.A. Clippers and L.A. Lakers
2002-03 Miami Heat
2003-04 Indiana Pacers
2004-05 Detroit Pistons
2005-06 Miami Heat
2006-07 Seattle Sonics
The Sonics have continued retail success this year, as earlier in the week the NBA announced Kevin Durant’s jersey is 11th on the Most Popular Jersey List.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Opposing View: 1/16 at New Orleans

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Jim Eichenhofer of helped build this format with his own "Rival Reports," and I answered some questions for their site while Jim was kind enough to return the favor. Also see's preview and be sure to check out the fine Hornets 24/7 blog.

This game kicks off a five-game homestand for the Hornets. How important is this stretch in the battle for playoff position in the tight Western Conference?
It’s important for several reasons. On paper, this five-game stretch includes four opponents with losing records. Although the Hornets have done an excellent job overall of beating the teams they “should” beat this season, they’ve had a couple surprising stumbles at home. On Nov. 26, New Orleans lost to Minnesota here – still the Timberwolves only road win of the season. A week earlier, the Hornets lost to Indiana. The Pacers are definitely no pushover, but they’re below .500.

Secondly, New Orleans is only 10-7 at home and needs to play better here, regardless of the opponent. At 25-12 overall, the Hornets have exceeded just about all outside expectations, but they need to establish more of a homecourt advantage. As everyone knows, you can’t be very successful in the NBA if you can’t take care of business at home. This group has not been to the playoffs yet, but if they qualify in 2008, they’re going to need to be a better home team to have a chance to advance.

Lastly, this stretch could be a memorable one for Byron Scott, who will coach the All-Star team if the Hornets finish with the best record in the Western Conference at the Feb. 3 cut-off date. It looks like Chris Paul will be in that game; I’d love to see Scott join him, especially since NBA All-Star Weekend is being held here in New Orleans.

How much has it helped the Hornets to have the bench step up the last couple of games?
The starting five has played so well this season that it has compensated for a lot of inconsistency from the bench. But I think everyone realizes that the starters can’t be expected to carry the load and play 40-plus minutes all season, so any contribution from the reserves is encouraging. Bobby Jackson, a Sixth Man of the Year winner with Sacramento, has had a below-average season by his standards, but went 9-for-9 from the field (7-for-7 on treys) vs. Miami on ESPN last week. Jannero Pargo has also played better recently. Those guys, combined with recent returns from injury by Ryan Bowen (sprained knee) and Melvin Ely (fractured eye socket) have people optimistic that we’ll see noticeable improvements from the second unit soon.

Is buzz building in the Big Easy for next month's All-Star Game, especially with Chris Paul likely to make an appearance?
Our fans are excited about getting to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host All-Star Weekend. It’s the first time the NBA’s midseason showcase event has been held in New Orleans, so I think a lot of people are looking forward to being the focus of the basketball world. From the team’s standpoint, the chance for there to be an international spotlight on the city of New Orleans for several days will be tremendous, as we continue to emphasize the need for people to contribute to the Gulf South region’s revitalization.

Has David West's play been overshadowed to some extent by the spotlight on Paul?
The short answer to that is “yes,” but I think West actually prefers it that way. Many have tried, but many have failed to get West to talk about himself and his individual success. He’s one of those players who is described as “underrated” so frequently by opposing team broadcasters that I can’t imagine he will remain that way much longer. The main thing that will make West more of a well-known name around the NBA is a playoff appearance. He has been in the postseason only once in his previous four years, but that was as a second-string rookie on a 2003-04 Hornets club filled with veterans. Other than avid NBA fans, there are a lot of people out there who haven’t had a chance to see West since his breakout 2005-06 season, when he was second in the Most Improved Player voting. In addition to a three-year absence from the playoffs, the Hornets haven’t been on national TV much during the regular season.

What don't we know about the Hornets but should?
I don’t know if you “should” know this, but Hornets veterans have come up with a very creative way to introduce the club’s two rookies to the NBA. Like many rooks, at the beginning of the season Julian Wright and Adam Haluska were assigned the important task of bringing donuts to practice. Unfortunately for Wright and Haluska, they were not carrying out this duty to the satisfaction of some of the older players – occasionally forgetting to bring the tasty baked goods – so punishment was in order. Earlier in the season, Wright and Haluska were carrying pink “My Little Princess” backpacks around with them on the road as part of their rookie initiation. After their donut-related slip-ups, however, you can now occasionally spot them in the New Orleans Arena pushing around pink strollers, with baby dolls in the seats. Haluska, who has been sidelined with a sprained ankle, was asked about his stroller during halftime of a recent game. The good-natured Haluska laughed about it, telling Hornets TV host Jordy Hultberg that “(Hornets veterans) even gave me a baby for the stroller!”

Just to clarify: Adam was talking about a doll, not a real infant.

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/16 at New Orleans

The Sonics have been getting effective rebounding from their big men recently. The Sonics PR Department notes either Nick Collison or Kurt Thomas has pulled down at least 10 rebounds in each of the last 11 games. In four of those games, they’ve both grabbed 10+ rebounds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Live From Boise ...

Hello from Boise, Idaho, where I spent the afternoon and evening at the D-League Showcase. All 14 D-League teams have come together here in Boise to play two games apiece starting Monday and ending Thursday. I popped my head back in Qwest Arena well after tonight's action was over and saw a neat sight - all 14 teams gathering on the court for a group picture.

I overheard another writer describe the Showcase as "summer league in the winter," and that's not a bad way to explain it - albeit without the allure of top draft picks and other young NBA players. (And without the warmth - it is cold here.) The arena is crawling with scouts and members of NBA front offices. Former Sonics Head Coach Bernie Bickerstaff is here, and I swear I saw an incognito Gregg Popovich. I also spotted Sonics Director of Player Personnel Bill Branch.

Qwest Arena is a neat venue, and a unique one at that. There is no concourse per se; the walkway is inside the arena, so fans never are away from being able to see the action. There's just one row of courtside seats on each side of the court, and the rest of the space is taken up by tables surrounded by chairs where groups of fans can get together to chat and take in the game. The most unconventional feature is that the arena is built into the neighboring Grove Hotel. Some of the rooms open up into the arena, a la the Skydome in Toronto. How closely connected are the hotel and the arena? Well, I was able to make it from my seat on press row to my room and back in less than two minutes of game action.

There's a Sonics slant to the presentation of these games, with former co-worker Pat Walker producing the Showcase. Sonics basketballs are being used in some of the in-game contests, and the Dunking Ushers showed off for the crowd at halftime of tonight's final game.

The headline story in the Idaho Statesman today about the Showcase was titled "Everyone has a story," and plenty of those stories include, at least tangentally, the Sonics. There are names I recognize from ties to the Sonics, whether it was playing for a summer-league squad (Will Blalock, Tony Bobbitt, Elton Brown and Kaniel Dickens) or making an appearance in training camp (Eddie Gill, Darryl Watkins). Jelani McCoy is playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Idaho's Randy Livingston has spent two stints in Seattle, including last April. Desmon Farmer also spent time with the Sonics last year. It's actually probably surprising there aren't more Seattle guys here, but Roosevelt High's Marcus Williams is playing for the Austin Toros.

The marquee game of the night was, naturally, the hometown Idaho Stampede facing the visiting Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Stampede got a scare in the end, but held on for a 93-89 victory, their 10th in a row. Idaho is 11-0 at Qwest Arena this season, and at 15-5 second in the D-League overall.

Sonics center Mouhamed Sene put together a strong performance off the bench for the Stampede, helping them take the lead in the second quarter and build it after halftime. In 21 minutes of play, Sene had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. His size really changed the game.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Opposing View: 1/14 vs. L.A. Lakers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Ty Nowell of talks about a Lakers team that has been rolling lately. I also answered a few questions on the Sonics for the excellent Basketblog. Don't forget to give a look to Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold.

What's been the difference for the Lakers during this recent hot stretch?
The easiest answer is Andrew Bynum, but more than anything the Lakers have won 16 out of 19 by playing great team basketball. That might sound crazy to the casual NBA observer that has gotten used to a “Kobe and four other guys” style of play the past couple of years, but it’s true. Kobe still gets his, but if you look at the score sheet you’ll usually see four to six guys scoring double digits. Making the extra pass seems like a small thing, but has made a big difference for the Purple & Gold and shows a level of trust that wasn’t there last season.

The team concept has also carried over to the defensive end where the Lakers are currently 7th in defensive efficiency after finishing last season 21st. The combo of Derek Fisher & Jordan Farmar at point guard has solidified a position that has been an albatross for LA since (coincidently) Fish left. While neither is known as a great defender, they’ve got the job done night in and night out.

Where is Andrew Bynum in his development?
Andrew Bynum has made great strides, but really he’s still just scratching the surface of what he can be. Last year he made a significant jump from his rookie year, but faded down the stretch due to poor conditioning. This year he’s made another big jump mostly due to a great work ethic that included him hiring his own personal trainer and daily work over the summer with Kurt Rambis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

He’s physique has gone from one of an oversized boy to a chiseled young man. More than anything, he’s just figuring it out. He’s starting to realize the importance of position down low, how he can use his length to gain an advantage, and how to be a force on the defensive end without getting in foul trouble.

Expectations continue to rise, but Bynum just turned 20 before the season started so we’re a long way from seeing his best. That’s a scary thought. A collective holding of the breath occurred last night as Bynum went down last night. Results of his MRI are pending.

For more on Drew, check out our feature story on him.

How has Trevor Ariza helped the Lakers since coming over in a trade?
When the Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook & Mo Evans deal was made most people thought it was just a way for the Lakers to shed some money down the line, but now it’s being viewed as a full -lown steal on LA’s side. Fans have fallen in love with Trevor’s vast athleticism and willingness to finish strong around the rim. He also brings an ability to guard athletic wing players, freeing up Kobe to do the other things he’s so good at. While the triangle offense is notorious for taking a substantial amount of time to learn, Ariza has fit in with little problem. Phil has started rotating him and Luke Walton at the starting small forward spot depending on the matchups.

How much noise can this team make in the postseason?
As constructed the Lakers have a shot at making a lot of noise in the playoffs (assuming Bynum’s injury isn’t too bad), but everyone remains optimistically cautious being that we’ve still got 3+ months left in the regular season. The first-round losses to Phoenix the past two years have taught this group a lot about the difference between the regular season and the postseason. The depth of the team becomes somewhat nullified in the playoffs when the rotations tighten up, but the Lakers will have someone on the bench for just about situation. Derek Fisher has been great for this team already and I expect him to have an even bigger impact in the playoffs as a guy that’s seen everything the post-season has to offer. Plus, you’ve always got Kobe Bryant, so anything is possible.

What don't we know about the Lakers but should?
The Lakers had almost an identical record at this time last season, but that was aided by an easy schedule featuring a large number of home games. Because of the Grammys being held at STAPLES Center, the Lakers will embark on a nine-game, 16-day road trip starting January 31 and lasting all the way till the All-Star break. How they emerge from that trip will tell us a lot about where this Lakers team really is. Also, after the Ariza trade the Lakers are the second youngest team in the league, so optimism in the present and for the future and the present is pretty high in Lakers land.

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/14 vs. L.A. Lakers

The Lakers have reduced their reliance on scoring from All-Star guard Kobe Bryant this season, but that's also made them more dangerous when Bryant has had big nights. They are 11-2 this season when Bryant has topped the 30-point mark. One of those 11 wins came Nov. 27 against the Sonics, when he finished with 35 points on 12-of-22 shooting.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wilcox, Ridnour Set to Return

Chris WilcoxAfter missing the last four games with a dislocated right pinky finger, Chris Wilcox is expected to return to the lineup Monday when the Sonics host the Los Angeles Lakers. Wilcox, who has played just six minutes in the last six games (a sprained left knee preceded his dislocated finger), went through a full practice with the team on Sunday. So too did Luke Ridnour, who has played just once in the last eight games due to an ongoing quad injury. Barring a setback tomorrow morning, both should be available against the Lakers.

"I really didn't feel too much - just getting hit on it and that," said Wilcox. "The day went good. I got my wind up a little bit, so I should be straight for tomorrow."

Going through a full practice was valuable for conditioning for both Wilcox and Ridnour, and Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo was pleasantly surprised at the shape they were in. As far as how they played, Carlesimo's observation was that Wilcox was more affected than Ridnour. Wilcox will play with his right pinky and ring fingers "buddy taped" together to protect the pinky from dislocating again.

"There were a couple of plays where he didn't catch it or didn't rebound it where he normally would," Carlesimo said. "You're also watching a little more carefully because of that, but you can see that the thing will bother him in some things."

While he's confident he'll be alright, Wilcox sees how the tape could be a problem.

"Just think about it - now you're shooting with two of your fingers together," he said. "Especially your last two fingers, because that's basically where you get the grip on the ball, coming down with rebounds and things like that."

He joked that the main adjustment would be throwing the ball in on dunks without grabbing the rim, which could be a problem for his finger.

Wilcox's return may be particularly well-timed because Sonics big man Nick Collison missed Sunday's practice with a right quad contusion.

"He did something late in the game the other night and then, when we put him back in, it kinda bothered him," said Carlesimo.

"He couldn't really go up and down. He said it feels good laterally but couldn't run, so obviously he couldn't go."

Collison hasn't been ruled out for Monday's game, leaving his status day-to-day. Which player starts at power forward will be determined by their respective health, though Carlesimo indicated he'd lean toward Collison because he has been starting up front alongside Kurt Thomas.

Thomas' practice time was limited, as it has been much of the season, but with Ridnour and Wilcox back on the court the Sonics still had enough players (10) for a full practice. Thomas was also on the court as the Sonics went through the Lakers offense. It was important to be able to go 5-on-5 because it allowed the Sonics to work on their offense, which has slumped over the last few games.

Since the calendar turned to 2008, the Sonics have shot 38.7% from the field and averaged 88.9 points per 100 possessions. For the season, their Offensive Rating is 100.2 points per 100 possessions. In Carlesimo's opinion, the drop-off starts with the team getting less from its transition offense and continues from there.

"We haven't run hard or consistently," he said, "so not only are we not getting shots from the first six, eight, 10 seconds from transition, which is really important to us, but we're basically wasting six, eight, 10 seconds and now we're trying to get into a halfcourt set, so instead of at 10, we're trying to get into it at 14 or 16. Even then, we've been slow getting into it. When we make a call, we're either not communicating it well or we're not getting into it well.

"So we worked on one, running and attacking and doing more in transition; two, when (the point guards) call a play, that we get into it a lot more quickly than we have been getting into it and that we run it more crisply."

The numbers support Carlesimo's contention that his team has not pushed the ball consistently. Of the eight slowest-paced Sonics games this season, six have come in the last nine games, including each of the last two.

"We ran better by a hundred-fold today during practice than we have during any of our games," Carlesimo said. "We've had games where we've run consistently; we've just stopped doing it."

Carlesimo doesn't fault point guards Earl Watson and Delonte West for the lack of fast-break production, but getting Ridnour in the lineup may help the team get running. Pushing the ball is more of a strength of his game.

Overall, Carlesimo was pleased with his team's effort today.

"We had a very good practice considering what it was like (with injuries), he said. "They went hard. They did a good job. We got stuff accomplished."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

D-League Update: 1/10/08

Mouhamed SeneIt's been a while since we checked in on young Sonics center Mouhamed Sene in Boise, where he is playing for the Idaho Stampede. The Stampede hosted games last Friday and Saturday, winning both to extend their winning streak to seven games. Idaho is 5-0 with Sene in the lineup.

Last Friday's game was Sonics Affiliate Night. Once a year, each NBA team is celebrated by their D-League affiliate, which wears the NBA team's jerseys and has promotions tied to the Sonics. As you can see below, Squatch made the trek to Boise to dazzle Stampede fans with his acrobatics. (All photos by Otto Kitsinger/Idaho Stampede.)

Sene had six points and 10 rebounds on Sonics Affiliate Night. The next evening, he posted 15 points and nine boards in 30 minutes of action.

Sene's averages: 11.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 53.8% shooting

Squatch dunks

Squatch leaps high in the air to dunk.

Stampede huddle

Idaho Head Coach Bryan Gates leads a team huddle. Former Sonics guard Randy Livingston is at left, one-time Gonzaga star Cory Violette at right.

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/11 vs. Dallas

Mavericks center Erick Dampier has set a Mavericks record by making his last 14 shot attempts. His accurate shooting has improved Dampier's field-goal percentage for the season to 68.8%. While he doesn't officially qualify for the NBA's leaderboard because he has not made enough field goals, Dampier is on pace to post the second-best field-goal percentage in NBA history, minimum 100 field-goal attempts.

Wilt Chamberlain's 72.7% shooting in 1972-73 is the only time in league history a regular player has made at least 70% of his shots. Chamberlain's 68.35 accuracy in 1966-67 currently ranks second all time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Opposing View: 1/9 at New Jersey

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

Is there any chance, with the kind of streak he's on, that Jason Kidd could average a triple-double?
Logic would probably question that if he hadn't done it in the 13 previous years of his career, how - at nearly 35 years old - could he do it now? But logic and cliches and what is supposed to be don't really apply with this guy. He is literally one of a kind, a once-a-generation talent in both mind and body, and a guy who has shown there are no concessions because of injury - remember, he had microfracture surgery three years ago - and certainly no concessions to age. In some ways you could say he has gotten better. The guy just notched his third consecutive triple-double, something that hasn't been done in over a decade. He now has 10 for the season. In just 33 games! He had 12 all of last season - which is a career high. He is now just three away from 100 for his career. So will he average a triple-double, something that has only been done by Oscar Robertson? Probably not. But with this guy, why not? Last season - thought of as one his best - saw him average 13 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.2 rebounds. Somehow, he was bettering those numbers so far this season. Going into tonight's game against Charlotte, he was at 11.4 points, 10.7 assists, and 8.8 rebounds. That's nearly nine boards for a guy listed at 6-4. It's mind boggling.

I didn't realize until looking at the numbers that Richard Jefferson is sixth in the league in scoring. Should we be hearing more about him?
You should be hearing more about him. In fact more people should; the last i looked at the all-star returns, RJ was not even in the top 10 Eastern Conference forwards. He doesn't mind though. He is just happy to be healthy again and playing with the full complement of athletic abilities and explosion. after a year of injuries, most notably to his ankle He is probably not a player best suited to the role of THE primary option though he can carry a team for periods and has truly done so this season. Nestled with Kidd and Carter, he is a potent threat. He is the Nets best transition player playing alongside Kidd and, in the half court, has really become proficient at barrelling towards the hoop and finding his way to the line. He is second in the league in free-throws made per game and fourth in attempts per game. He has a pretty relialbe mid-range jumper and can hit the three. And he is a winner. After leaving college following his junior season- straight from the National Championship Game - he has been to the playoffs every year of his NBA career (all with Nets, of course).

When he gets back in rhythm, what will Marcus Williams bring the Nets?
Marcus had a great summer of hard work. He played exceptionally in the Orlando Summer League and worked all off-season to become a better player. He showed spurts of what he could be last year but had the double-whammy of being a rookie at a position like point guard and being a rookie point guard backing up one of the greatest who has ever played your position. Then just on cusp of training camp, a broken bone was found in Williams' foot, one that required surgery and what turned out to be 10 weeks of rest and rehabilitation. So, that really sets him back. Plus, Darrell Armstrong - whom the Nets picked up in training camp when Marcus went down - has been a real spark of late and has moved for the time being into the backup spot. As Marcus continues to work and progress, however, he is a guy who has a real intuitive sense in the passing game and the offensive ability to consistently knock down shots.

Is it up to the young guys, Josh Boone and Sean Williams, to bring New Jersey regular production up front?
For now, they have stepped up to the challenge. As young players playing alongside Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson they are just being told to be themselves. They are live bodies on the offensive and defensive end, they can really finish around the rim, and they can get out and run, a great thing when you have Kidd leading the break. In the pick-n-roll game, they are really opening up the floor and creating a threat that opponents must recognize. Williams is a little more above the rim, Boone more crafty around the rim. And Williams, of course, is a real weapon on the defensive end. They have injected energy and spark and have been the best suited complement to date to the three stars. It is up to them for the time being, but Nenad Krstic will be back. He hopes to be practicing again with the team sometime this month. That should only help all of the parties involved.

What don't we know about the Nets but should?
Richard Jefferson is as good as his numbers currently show and Jason Kidd is not slowing down.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/9 at New Jersey

When it comes to rebounding, the month of January agrees with Sonics big man Nick Collison. Collison has grabbed at least 14 rebounds in all three games the Sonics have played in 2008 so far.

Last January, Collison averaged 11.1 rebounds per game - 1.7 more than in any other month of the 2006-07 season.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/8 at Cleveland

The Cavaliers and Sonics are two of the nine NBA teams who boast multiple players averaging at least eight rebounds per game. For the Sonics, those are Kurt Thomas (9.9 rpg) and Nick Collison (8.5 rpg).

Cleveland is the only NBA team with three players averaging more than eight boards: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (9.8 rpg), Drew Gooden (9.1 rpg) and Anderson Varejao (8.2 rpg).

Friday, January 4, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/6 at Washington

With his lone assist Thursday at Phoenix, Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour moved into a tie with Dick Snyder for 10th in franchise history in career assists (1,607). Ridnour's next assist will move him into sole possession of 10th place.

Next on the list: Detlef Schrempf (1,652), just 45 assists away.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Opposing View: 1/3 at Phoenix

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Tonight, Brad G. Faye represents the team at in discussing their division-leading squad. Arizona Republic beat writer Paul Coro blogs on the Suns, including an entry on Kurt Thomas' return to Phoenix. Also see the Bright Side of the Sun blog.

How is Grant Hill fitting in with the Suns?
As expected, Grant Hill is fitting in great both on and off the court. I don’t think either has come as much of a surprise as everybody knows the kind of player he can be when healthy. The one element of his game which has been a pleasant surprise, though, has been his defense. I remember earlier on in his career watching all those great highlights above the rim, but never knew he was as good a defender as he is. That ability has come in handy on a few occasions, particularly in that win at San Antonio.

Has the play of the other major newcomer, Brian Skinner, in replacing Kurt Thomas been a pleasant surprise?
We knew heading into the season that Kurt Thomas isn’t a player or a person you can replace. But for a guy added to the roster as recently as training camp, Brian Skinner has been fantastic. A lot of people thought he would just fill in as a big body for Mike D'Antoni, but like Hill, he is a lot better defender than people give him credit for. Skinner’s laidback personality fits in perfectly with this ballclub and he’s a key reason why we’re among the top teams in the league when it comes to blocked shots.

After back-to-back playoff series and two Lakers wins this year, is it fair to call the Lakers and Suns a rivalry?
If anything, these past two seasons have simply reminded everybody what a great rivalry the Suns and Lakers have. The history between these ballclubs dates back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins and Paul Westphal. From then all the way up to today, each has been playing for something every time they step onto the court regardless of what their record may have been.

As you celebrate the franchise's 40th Anniversary, where does beating the Sonics in the 1993 Western Conference Finals rank in the top memories in team history?
In an ideal world I’d be talking about how beating the Bulls was more memorable, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. When the NBA underwent its divisional restructure a few seasons back, I remember being bothered by the fact we would no longer be playing in the Pacific with the Sonics. The two teams have shared a lot of great memories, not only from those 1993 Western Conference Finals, but also in 1976 when we eliminated the Sonics en route to the NBA Finals.

(Editor's note: Worth remembering that the Sonics beat the Suns in the 1979 Western Conference Finals on their way to the NBA championship.)

What don't we know about the Suns but should?
This again will serve as proof to how much history the Suns and Sonics share, but our franchise’s first-ever game actually took place against Seattle. Not to rub it in or anything, but the final result was a 116-107 Suns victory.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kia Surprising Stat: 1/3 at Phoenix

The Suns are on pace to set a new NBA record for lowest offensive rebound percentage ... for the third straight season.

Prior to the 2005-06 Suns, no team had ever rebounded fewer than 23% of available missed shots. The Suns shattered that, rebounding only 22.1% of their misses. Last year that mark dropped to 21.2%, and this year Phoenix is at 20.5% - threatening the never-before broken 20% floor.

As a general principle, the Suns eschew offensive rebound opportunities in favor of getting back quickly on defense. It hasn't seemed to hurt their offense much.

Sonics Getting Healthy

Quick update, practice at The Furtado Center having ended and the Sonics on their way to the airport to travel to Phoenix.

Guards Kevin Durant and Luke Ridnour both went through practice today and are expected to play tomorrow in Phoenix. Durant had his sprained left index finger taped to his middle finger for half of practice and post-practice drills, but shed the protective glove he wore on Monday when he was unable to play against Philadelphia.

Forward Chris Wilcox sat out, giving his sprained left knee another day to recover. Coach P.J. Carlesimo described Wilcox as "possible" for tomorrow's game.