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HOUSTON – The Seattle SuperSonics’ third preseason game started 15 minutes late as Compaq Center lights inadvertently shut off. The contest ended on a thunderous dunk from Steve Francis.
In between, the arena scoreboard temporarily froze, shots more often than not rimmed out, players zigged when they should have zagged, and the Sonics struggled to get into a true rhythm.
In other words, this was your average preseason game.
In a matchup where most of the starters played the first and third quarters and little else, the Rockets handed Seattle its first defeat with a 101-91 win that seemed sluggish throughout.
“We just didn’t get the job done,” said new Sonics center Patrick Ewing. “Things just didn’t go our way. We’ve got to learn from it and move on, and make sure it doesn’t happen in the regular season.”
Said Seattle coach Paul Westphal: “We played like we had a ten-hour flight and got in at 3 (o’clock) in the morning. Oh yeah, we did. We were just a step slow all night long. (The late arrival is) as good a reason as I can see for us losing. We have to take better care of the ball and work on our turnovers.”
Seattle shot below 40 percent for most of the game but finally crept over that mark with its second unit on the floor for much of the final quarter.
The Sonics closed to within four points with less than a minute remaining in the game, but the Rockets came up with an 8-2 run to end the threat.
“We let them have some key stretches when we had a chance to get back in the game a couple of times,” Westphal said. “They had the spurts instead of us.
“But it wasn’t all bad. There was enough good stuff we can take from it.”
That mainly being the play of Rashard Lewis, a Houston native who may still hold a grudge against the Rockets for not picking out of high school when they had a chance in the 1998 draft. Lewis, who dropped in 18 points against Utah on Saturday, scored 14 points and grabbed five boards in 32 minutes.
“We already take Rashard for granted,” Westphal said. “That’s how good he’s gotten quickly. He just goes out there and gives a professional effort every night.
“We’ve put a lot of time in with him – not that it’s been a chore. It’s been a pleasure and he’s responded very well.”
Desmond Mason also impressed, not only with his 10 points, six rebounds and four assists, but on the defensive side of the ball as well. Mason was matched up with Francis and Cuttino Mobley, one of the most athletic backcourt tandems in the league.
Save for Dickey Simpkins’ three minutes, Seattle’s starters played the entire first quarter and were relatively sluggish at that, shooting under 37 percent in the first 12 minutes. Vin Baker, Desmond Mason and Gary Payton accounted for all of the Sonics’ points in the first quarter, which produced a 21-21 score.
With second and third stringers taking all of the minutes in the second quarter, Seattle’s shooting percentage dipped even lower while Houston used a 7-0 and 9-2 run late in the second to take a 45-38 lead into halftime.
Francis and Mobley were the lone starters on the floor in the second quarter, and the former led the way at the break with 11 points and four assists en route to his game-high 19 points on the night. Walt Williams matched with 19 of his own.
Payton seemed spurred by an ongoing quarrel between himself and Mobley. The two were handed double technical fouls at the 7:36 mark in the third quarter.
Payton led the Sonics with 16 points.
Seattle got a scare with 11:50 left in the game when Ruben Patterson went down and had to be carried off the court by teammates after being kneed in the thigh by Williams. The injury is apparently just a severe bruise, and Patterson will be re-evaluated today.
“Hopefully, I’ll be ready for Thursday but if not, Saturday,” Patterson said. “I’ll be OK.”
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