By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE – Champions are supposed to humiliate, not be humiliated. If there is punishment to be given out, it should come from their hand, not the hand of an opponent.
This is how it ought to be, anyhow. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and other legends were occasionally beaten in battle, but somehow we never think of them being flat-out embarrassed on the basketball court.
However, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the other Los Angeles Lakers have experienced the feeling of shame, and it is fresh.
It happened just eight days ago. It was the first meeting of the season between the Sonics and Lakers, a pair of longtime West Coast rivals. It was also the first home game for new Sonics coach Nate McMillan.
And it was a dandy.
Before a giddy KeyArena sellout crowd on Nov. 30, the Sonics played brilliantly in the first half, building a 74-43 lead at the break on their way to a 121-88 victory. Seattle set a bevy of season highs that night including margin of victory (33 points), points for a game (121), points in a half (74), field goals made (46) and 3-point percentage (53.3, 8-for-15).
How one-sided was Seattle’s victory? Consider some historical perspective. A year ago, on their way to an NBA-best 67-15 record and the NBA title, the Lakers lost only one game by 20 or more points, and that was a 24-point setback to San Antonio. Every other defeat was by 17 points or less, and most were in single digits.
And in their years of facing the Sonics, a rivalry in its 34th season, the Lakers had never lost to Seattle by 30 or more points.
Whatever else happens in this Sonics season, whether the team achieves a soaring finish or fades to mediocrity, the magic of that one night will always twinkle in memory. Of course, the NBA always offers an opportunity for payback, and the Lakers will have that chance tonight when they host Seattle in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Staples Center.
Will the Lakers be poised for revenge?
“Oh, yeah, they’ll be ready,” said Seattle’s Emanual Davis. “They’ll be licking their chops.”
McMillan agrees. “I’m sure they’ve been looking forward to this game since they left (Seattle) the night of our victory,” he said.
The NBA schedule is a long and arduous trek, and athletes sometimes find that one game can blend into the next. Shrewd pros look for ways to gain that last ounce of motivation against a given foe, and there can hardly be a better source of inspiration than a recent thrashing.
“The way we beat them and the fashion that we beat them, they’re the world champions, they have ego and pride, and I’m sure they’re going to use that as a motivation tool,” McMillan said. “We have to come ready to play (tonight).”
Ironically, both teams enter this game after highly disappointing defeats. Seattle, which won three of its first four under McMillan, was thumped at home by Detroit on Wednesday, 112-99. That same night, the Lakers dropped a 125-122 overtime decision at Golden State. The loss kept Los Angeles from taking over first place in the league’s Pacific Division.
The Sonics, meanwhile, are fifth in the division and 11th in the Western Conference, and desperately need to tack a string of wins together. To start such a string against the Lakers, McMillan knows, will require the same effort and execution Seattle showed just eight nights ago.
“I want us to have the same focus, concentration and energy that we had when we were up here,” he said, adding, “We’re not going to go down there to play well, we’re going down there to win it.”
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to email@example.com or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.