Mason has struggled in his first eight NBA games, shooting just .360 percent (18-for-50) from the field and missing all seven tries from the 3-point stripe. Though Mason is hardly wholly responsible, Westphal is desperate to inject some newfound energy and aggressiveness onto his first team.
Not wanting the New York locker room to get wind of the change until the opening tip, Westphal declined to talk about the lineup change before the game.
“I just want to play hard and do what I can do for my team, that’s my main thing,” said Patterson, who started 74 games at small forward for Seattle last season. “I want to go out there and hustle and rebound and doing things like that.”
Patterson, though, knows that Seattle’s needs go beyond the contributions of one man.
“We all know what we have to do,” he said. “We have to go out and play hard.”
In retrospect, Westphal wonders if Baker came back too quickly after his injury. Baker, in fact, returned to the New Jersey game after being hurt, then played the next night in Detroit.
“The last two games he hasn’t been (100 percent), but he persevered,” Westphal said. “I probably shouldn’t have let him. But he said he was ready to go. Before he got hurt, he had his best game in three years at Charlotte (with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists).”
“There’s no place quite like (New York),” said Seattle’s David Wingate, a Knicks teammate of Ewing’s a year ago.
Rather than handle the crowd in the Seattle locker room, the Sonics PR staff set up a special area with a podium so the New York media to conduct postgame interviews, a la the NBA playoffs.
For his part, Westphal has downplayed any distraction brought to town by the New York press. “I haven’t been answering any more questions than I usually do,” he said, “even though there are more reporters around.”
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