By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
WASHINGTON – There was a Washington Wizards fan sitting behind the Seattle SuperSonics bench at the MCI Center Sunday afternoon, and at one point during a stoppage in play, the fan yelled, “Yo, I wouldn’t have left church early if I knew you guys were going to play like this.”
Indeed, the Wizards are one bad team, and even a month’s worth of prayers couldn’t help them.
Such floor futility is exactly what the Sonics needed from an opponent at this point in a long road trip, and the Sonics’ 99-84 victory served as the perfect remedy for their three-game losing streak.
Even with Vin Baker missing the game with a swollen left knee, even with a horrid first-quarter performance by Seattle, even with no post presence to speak of, the Sonics were able to toy with this motley bunch of hoopsters.
And yes, that does include Michael Jordan.
The greatest player ever was absolutely putrid, missing his first 14 shots of the game, including a point-blank alley-oop layin and successive 8-foot jumpers.
Normally, Jordan is the one that alleviates some of the Wizards’ problems.
On Sunday, he compounded them, missing 21 of 26 shots.
“I couldn’t get anything to go,” said Jordan, who finished with 16 points, a team-high 12 rebounds and four assists. “This was probably one of the worst shooting nights I’ve had in my career.”
Only a strong push at the beginning of the fourth quarter that got the Wizards to within eight points from a 25-point deficit made the game marginally interesting.
But Seattle’s shooting, and Gary Payton’s outstanding performance of 32 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds, were enough to hold off any serious threat.
Otherwise, the game was a poor display of basketball. At one point, the clueless Wizards had six players on the court and could not figure out why the officials would not allow them to inbound the ball.
Kwame Brown, the first pick in the draft, looked as if he picked up a ball for the first time just last week. He clanked three of four shots, missed half his free throws and was chastised by Jordan because he defended the Sonics’ pick-and-roll play incorrectly the entire first half.
In all, the Sonics forced the King and his Court to shoot 33 percent and commit 17 turnovers, which Seattle converted into 24 points.
It prompted the same fan to yell to Sonics coach Nate McMillan, “Hey Nate, we’ll trade 10 of our players for two of yours. We don’t care which two. Any two.”
Even the injured Peja Drobnjak and Shammond Williams would be an improvement.
“The fans could not be pleased with what they saw today,” Jordan said. “They booed us in the third quarter, and they had every right to.”
The victory allowed Seattle to end the road trip on a positive note by improving to 3-5.
Now, they head home for more than a week and will try to get their record back to .500 with games against Phoenix, Golden State and Denver.
Whether they will be able to do that with Baker remains to be seen.
McMillan did not even know about the injury until about 50 minutes before tipoff, and he was none too pleased that he had to make such a late adjustment to a lineup that already is shuffled.
Baker had told trainer Mike Shimensky that his knee was sore at practice on Saturday night, but it swelled up overnight and Baker – who was in the training room receiving treatment and unavailable for comment – was unable to put weight on it.
Desmond Mason started at forward and Jerome James at center, and the Sonics looked worse than the Wizards (2-5) early on, committing seven turnovers, shooting 38 percent and looking out of sorts as they tried to adjust to James in the pivot.
But Jordan kept pumping up misses, and when the Sonics ended the first half on a 7-0 run, then began the third period with a 7-1 run, they took a 54-42 lead and never looked back as players threw in 3-pointer after 3-pointer, 11 in all.
Brent Barry broke out of his mini-slump to total 20 points – including an emphatic fast-break dunk – six rebounds, six assists and two steals, and Mason and Rashard Lewis each contributed 14 points. Art Long was Seattle’s interior threat with 10 points and 10 rebounds.