Baker helps Sonics open with win

  • Frank Hughes / The News Tribune
  • Wednesday, October 10, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Frank Hughes

The News Tribune

SEATTLE – It’s still early, but if his play Wednesday night is an indication of things to come, Seattle SuperSonics power forward Vin Baker could finally be ready to silence his critics.

Baker followed up a 28-point, 14-rebound performance in the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage last week with a 10-point, 11-rebound, six-block outing Wednesday night that helped the Sonics defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, 96-85, before 7,988 fans at KeyArena.

Already, the difference in Baker’s game is vastly noticeable. No longer is he standing under the basket, watching as his teammates zip up the floor. No longer does he watch as an opponent sweeps in for an uncontested dunk. No longer do fans wonder why their 6-foot-11, $86 million man has not grabbed a rebound.

In short, Baker is more active – probably more active than at any time he has been in Seattle.

“We are going to need Vin to play that way in order for us to have success,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said.

Baker is battling for rebounds, and because he has lost weight, he is quick enough to get off the floor several times in a span of a few seconds.

And he is willing to come off his man to block shots off the weak side. At one point Wednesday night, with the Clippers on a 3-on-2 fast break, Baker came across and swatted Eric Piatkowski’s lay-in into the stands. Another time, with Keyon Dooling attempting a reverse layup, Baker met him at the rim and rejected the shot.

“Coach McMillan has talked to me about my defense, and being a better defender,” Baker said. “Obviously, being lighter, my reaction time is better. And the new zone rules allow you to be in a position where you can get to the ball quicker. And my timing was there.”

The one part of his game that Baker has yet to display is his back to the basket in the low post. It will be interesting to see whether the loss of weight prohibits Baker from dealing with stronger players, or whether he is able to beat them with his quickness.

“It’ll come,” Baker said. “Tonight, I was working more defensively and the rebounds. When I get that part of my game going, the rebounds and blocks, then the rest will come.”

The other thing that remains to be seen is how Baker fares over the course of the season, and whether he burned himself out getting his weight down, as he did two seasons ago.

But for now, at least, he appears to be back to respectability, and he may be bringing the Sonics with him.

For all the hype about the up-and-coming Clippers, the same cannot yet be said for them. Despite a roster that includes Elton Brand, Lamar Odom and Darius Miles, Los Angeles has a long way to go before it is ready to deal with Gary Payton, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, completely abusing Jeff McInnis; or Rashard Lewis, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists; or the remainder of the Sonics players trying to work their way into the rotation.

McMillan only dressed 15 of the team’s 19 players, keeping JaRon Rush, Art Long, Eddie Gill and Eddie Elisma out. Earl Watson did not play because of a left heel contusion, and Olumide Oyedeji did not get off the bench.

Because he wanted Seattle’s fans to see who the team has this year, McMillan started Payton, Baker, Calvin Booth, Brent Barry and Lewis, with Peja Drobnjak, Jerome James, Desmond Mason, Shammond Williams and Vladimir Radmanovic subbing for them. McMillan said the other players will see more time tonight, when the Sonics play the Denver Nuggets in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Notes – Besides the new court at KeyArena, there is a high-tech strip that circles the stadium, between the upper and lower levels. It is called an LED Ring, and has a clearer display for scores and advertisements. When technicians are done working on it, Sonics CEO Wally Walker said, it will have more detailed graphics. … .The Sonics wore their old uniforms Wednesday night because, according to general manager Rick Sund, the new ones are not yet ready.

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