SEATTLE – He took just two shots and missed them both, so at first glimpse Seattle SuperSonics guard Brent Barry would hardly seem to warrant mention after Sunday’s meeting with the Orlando Magic at KeyArena.
Still, his teammates know better, which is why praise for Barry flowed freely in Seattle’s postgame locker room. Aided by his season-high 12 assists, the Sonics methodically and convincingly dispatched the Tracy McGrady-less Magic 84-67 for their fifth consecutive victory, another season best.
Moreover, those five wins coincide with Barry’s return to the starting lineup after he missed 20 games with a broken finger on his shooting hand. That, too, has not gone overlooked.
Having Barry back “has changed everything,” said Seattle forward Rashard Lewis, who chipped in 18 points against Orlando. “I think the fans can see it for themselves. You guys (in the media) can see it. The ball movement we have out on the floor and the communication out there (is better). He’s really getting us into the offense and getting a lot of guys open shots.”
“Brent is a playmaker,” added center Vitaly Potapenko, who totaled a season-high 21 points. “He always hits guys in the right spot at the right time. It sometimes takes just a half-second in this game to be able to score and he always delivers the ball (on time) out there on the point.”
Barry, a nine-year veteran who has played shooting guard for much of his career, has an intuitive feel for what makes Seattle’s offense click. Often it means pushing the tempo. Sometimes it involves slowing down. Always it requires getting five players in the right spots, and then having good ball movement to create high-percentage shots.
Which is precisely what he did Sunday night. Barry had five assists in the first quarter as the Sonics broke on top to stay and another four in the second period as Seattle pushed to a 50-39 halftime lead. He had three more assists in the third quarter, putting him in position to surpass his career-best total of 16 assists, but then played just two minutes of the fourth period as the Sonics had the outcome well in hand.
Sunday’s victory moves the suddenly-surging Sonics within four games of Utah, which visits KeyArena on Wednesday night, in the chase for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“It’s nice to get some wins,” said Sonics coach Nate McMillan. “We went through a stretch that was tough on all of us (Seattle lost nine of 10 before starting the winning streak), but we didn’t give up. We got some guys healthy, put this lineup together (with Barry back on the first team), and we’ve been playing good basketball.”
Still, Seattle’s outlook is anything but promising. The Sonics have 12 games remaining, six at home and six on the road. Of those 12 games, seven are against teams that are surely playoff bound and four are against teams with realistic postseason hopes. Only one game, the season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers, involves a team with no playoff prospects.
“There hasn’t been a lot of talk about (the playoffs),” McMillan said. “There’s been more talk about playing the game hard, playing the game together and not giving in. … The one thing the coaching staff has tried to do is not allow these guys to quit. To continue to work and concentrate on what we need to do to win games. We seem to be playing with more confidence and we’re finally doing the things we’ve been talking about forever.”
“I don’t want to think about the playoffs,” Lewis added. “We’ve been playing well by taking it game by game, and when we look forward to the future and the playoffs I think that’s when we have mental lapses. We should just take it game by game and not talk about the playoffs, and whatever happens at the end of the season happens.”
Orlando was obviously short-handed without McGrady, the NBA’s leading scorer, who missed the game after the death of his great grandmother. He is expected to rejoin the team in Orlando later this week.
“Without him, obviously, we’re not as talented,” said Magic coach Johnny Davis. “He can create offense by himself and he also creates offense for other people. When he’s not there, we do have a tremendous void in what we’re doing offensively.”