Sonics lose their fourth in a row

  • Rich Myhre / Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 2, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Though it should come as no shock, the Seattle SuperSonics will not make the NBA playoffs this season.

It happened officially on Friday night as the Sonics lost a 97-86 decision to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers at KeyArena and the Denver Nuggets won at home against the Houston Rockets, 110-100. The two outcomes mean Seattle, which has dropped four straight games to fall to 34-42, can do no better than tie the Nuggets, now 40-37, in the final standings.

Seattle and Denver split the season series, which is the league’s first tie-breaker, but the Nuggets have a better conference record – the second tie-breaker – and would even if they lost all of their remaining conference games and the Sonics won all of theirs. Even in the event of a multi-team tie, Seattle would be eliminated under the league’s complex tie-breaker formula.

Thus the Sonics, who stirred some optimism with a recent seven-game winning streak, will play the last six contests on their schedule and be done.

“It turns around quick,” said Sonics coach Nate McMillan, acknowledging his team’s postseason ouster. “You win seven and then you lose four. In this league, that can happen. So we’ll focus on (Sunday’s game with) New Orleans. That’s all we can do.”

The loss also dropped the Sonics to 34-42, assuring them of a second straight losing season. Seattle was 40-42 a year ago.

For the Lakers, meanwhile, it was their 11th consecutive victory, proving they are gearing up at the right time to make a run at their fourth NBA championship in five seasons.

“I think they can be beaten, but it’s going to take some solid play,” McMillan said. “In a seven-game series, it’s going to be tough to beat those guys. … If they are healthy going into the playoffs, they will be a tough team to beat.”

Asked about the Lakers’ chances, Seattle’s Reggie Evans was even more emphatic.

“Yep, they are going to win (the championship),” he said. “Hands down. I feel sorry for Sacramento because they had a good year. I feel sorry for San Antonio. I feel sorry for Detroit and Indiana and everybody who had a good season because LA is going to put those rings on.”

Led by the perimeter scoring of guard Ray Allen and the inside hustle of Evans, the Sonics stayed with LA for most of three quarters. Seattle, in fact, led by eight points after one quarter, four points at halftime and was tied in the late minutes of the third period, but from there the Lakers ran off seven straight points to take a 77-70 margin into the final quarter. It was a lead the visitors never lost.

When the game turned, it was largely due to LA’s remarkable tandem of guard Kobe Bryant and center Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant had 19 of his 25 points in the second half, going 7-for-10 from the field with three 3-pointers and two free throws, while O’Neal added 13 points with sometimes unstoppable moves around the basket.

O’Neal even gave the fans a bit of comedy. With just under three minutes to go in the game, the 7-foot-1, 340-pound O’Neal went chasing after a rebound and ended up toppling over the press table along the baseline, landing on several of the LA beat writers and breaking the laptop computer of one. He wound up on the floor, and to extricate himself he crawled along the floor the length of the table – passing through the Seattle press corps – and emerged with a goofy grin on his face.

Former Sonic Gary Payton, in his second game back at KeyArena since being traded on Feb. 19, 2003, had 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes.

” (Payton) is just playing off those guys,” McMillan said. “He’s adjusted to deferring his game to Kobe and Shaq and … he still finds a way to be productive.”

Allen tossed in 30 points to lead all scorers and also had seven assists. Forward Rashard Lewis contributed 25 points, five rebounds and five steals, while Evans nabbed a season-high 14 rebounds and added three points and two assists – one, an improbable alley-oop lob to Lewis for a fast-break dunk.

“I thought (Evans) gave us energy,” McMillan said. “I thought the intensity he brought to the game was the intensity we needed. He was scrappy, physical. He was all over the place with offensive boards and he did a good job of screening to get guys open. I thought he played a solid game on both ends of the floor.

Seattle was without two of its top front-line players. Backup center Jerome James missed his fourth straight game with an abdominal strain while reserve forward Vlade Radmanovic sat out his first game since spraining his right ankle in a Wednesday contest at Minnesota. Both players are on the injured list.

Without James and Radmanovic, “we just struggled with trying to find a rhythm with that second unit. I thought the first unit did a pretty good job, but … we were limited with offensive weapons on the bench tonight.”

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