By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE – The Seattle SuperSonics will approach tonight’s final exhibition game as a full dress rehearsal for their upcoming regular-season opener, coach Paul Westphal said Thursday.
And that could include having all of Seattle’s expected starters on the court against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Forward Rashard Lewis and guard Desmond Mason both sat out Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Sacramento Kings. Lewis, Seattle’s starting small forward, is recovering from a sprained knee and Mason, the No. 1 draft pick who will start at shooting guard, missed because of a sprained ankle.
Initially, neither was likely to play against the Clippers, but both players practiced on Thursday afternoon and could be in the lineup tonight.
What must be seen, Westphal said, is whether the injured joints experience overnight swelling.
“That’s the main thing, when you’re coming off an injury, is how do you respond the day after you first work out,” he said. “If there’s swelling when they wake up in the morning, then they won’t play. But if they come back as good or better than they were, then they’ll play.
“We would limit each of their minutes some, but hopefully they’ll both be able to play. They were both moving real well (at Thursday’s practice). … We’ll keep a close eye them because of their injuries. We might rest them (more than usual) to be cautious, but for the most part I think we’ll go out there and approach this as we would a regular-season game.”
After tonight’s game in Los Angeles, the Sonics return home to prepare for Tuesday’s regular-season opener in Vancouver against the Grizzlies. Seattle opens its home schedule on Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets.
The three players who were cut “played as hard or harder than anybody we have (in training camp),” he added. “If circumstances were different, you could make a good argument for having them on the team.”
“You shouldn’t have secret deals,” Westphal said. “I think that’s the message (from the league) very clearly.”
Westphal would not assess the justness of the punishment. “I’m not here to tell the commissioner how to do his job. I had my say with the miking the coaches (which was a heated controversy last season). After that, he’s on his own,” Westphal cracked. However, Westphal did say the Sonics have had similar opportunities to negotiate secret contracts.
“We’ve lost players because we wouldn’t do it,” Westphal said. “The agents don’t mind asking.”
Also, Mason says he hasn’t had difficulty adjusting to Seattle’s offensive schemes. “Other teams are doubling Vin and Gary and Patrick,” he said with a smile, “so I just sit out there and shoot the ball.”