By FRANK HUGHES
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Seattle SuperSonics proved to be the perfect recruiting tool for the Detroit Pistons in their pursuit of Joe Smith.
Smith, the player whose contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves was nullified by the league, was in Detroit on Sunday, scouting out where he wants to sign next.
Midway through the third quarter, Smith emerged with Pistons general manager Joe Dumars and watched the Pistons smack the Sonics with a 101-92 decision before 14,289 fans at The Palace.
Perhaps Sonics coach Paul Westphal should have sauntered over to where Smith was sitting by the end of Seattle’s bench and asked him to suit up for a tryout with the Sonics.
They certainly needed the help.
The loss to Detroit (3-5) was the final game of a five-game trip during which the Sonics went 1-4, dropping their record to a dismal 2-6, something even the most earnest of Sonics critics could not have predicted when the season began.
Afterward, the mood in the locker room was uncharacteristically subdued, as if everybody was contemplating what, exactly, was happening to a team that held so much promise.
For the first time, Patrick Ewing seemed to show some emotion about his new team’s circumstances. Perhaps it was because the Sonics face his former team, the New York Knicks, Tuesday night at KeyArena.
“The team as a whole, we’ve just got to play,” Ewing said. “We’ve got to play basketball. For whatever reason, we are just not getting it done. We’re not helping on defense, we are just not getting it done. We are a better team than all the teams we’ve played.
“Realistically, we should be 8-0. But we are not getting it done. We have to pick up our game both offensively and defensively. We are letting teams score on us too easily.
“The only thing we can take out of this road trip is how disappointing it feels so hopefully we won’t feel this again.”
About the only positive the Sonics could point to about Sunday’s game was that they had 13 turnovers after having 31 turnovers Saturday against the New Jersey Nets.
But the low number of turnovers only served to highlight how poorly the Sonics have been playing defense, because Seattle had nothing else to shield that fact.
The last game of a trip is called the getaway game, because teams usually look past it and look forward to getting home. The tolls of the road have taken their effects.
But Seattle really did not have that excuse against Detroit. When the Sonics got blown out by the Nets on Saturday, Westphal rested all his starters for the final quarter.
They still looked as if they were resting Sunday. Against the Nets, Seattle allowed Stephon Marbury to score 41 points in 29 minutes. Against the Pistons, Jerry Stackhouse – whom the Sonics knew was essentially Detroit’s only weapon – went for 38 points in 35 minutes.
Seattle rookie Desmond Mason got torched on defense, but he certainly was not the only guilty party.
In the first half, the Sonics allowed the Pistons – like the Nets, another team that struggles offensively – to shoot 57 percent. Guys named Mikki Moore and Jerome Williams were having their way, allowing the Pistons to build a 13-point lead.
In the third quarter, despite what was said in the locker room at halftime, the Sonics permitted the Pistons to push their margin to 21.
“The third quarter, we talked about coming out and getting down and playing good defense,” Westphal said, “and instead they came out and built up a big lead.”
To their credit, the Sonics slowly and methodically came back, just as they did in Vancouver, just as they did against Portland, just as they did in Orlando and just as they did in Miami.
Then they lost. Just as they did in Vancouver, just as they did against Portland, just as they did in Orlando and just as they did in Miami.
“We’ve got to play hard the whole game,” Ruben Patterson said. “We’ve got to play from start to finish. We want to wait until we get down 15 or 20, and then we play hard. It’s not going to work like that.”
After Rashard Lewis tied the game at 82 on a 3-pointer, the Sonics let the decision slip away. With the score tied at 86, Chucky Atkins made a basket, Stackhouse hit a 3-pointer and Atkins made two free throws for a 93-86 lead.
“When the game is close, in the last three minutes of the NBA, anybody can win the game at that point,” Westphal said. “And the other teams have been making the plays.
“It’s a disappointing loss to what was a bad road trip.”
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