Sonics without a clue

  • FRANK HUGHES / The News Tribune
  • Wednesday, November 8, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By FRANK HUGHES

The News Tribune

MIAMI – This was supposed to be a season full of optimism, of big centers and all-star guards coming together for the first time in their careers, of regaining a winning tradition that had slipped away.

Instead, for the Seattle SuperSonics, and for Gary Payton and Patrick Ewing, this is a season gone awry, slipping away and creating a void that is being filled with frustration and confusion. The latest installment of this disappointing season was an 87-81 loss to the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on Wednesday night, a loss that held significance of a not-so-mirthful nature.

Not only was it the Sonics’ third consecutive loss, but it also dropped them to 1-4 for the season. That’s the worst start in 23 years, since the 1977-78 season, when general manager Wally Walker was a player and Lenny Wilkens was the coach.

Ewing hasn’t had a season this poor since his first two years in the league, 14 years ago. Payton never has started this poorly in his career.

“I’m just disappointed,” Ewing said.

“It’s baffling to me,” Payton said. “I don’t know what the problem is right now, but we got one. I thought we was playing good at the end of the preseason, and then we get into the season, and we start off slow. I can’t tell you why we are starting off slow, we are just starting off slow.”

All Payton has to do is look at the box score.

After stressing in practice on Tuesday the need to cut down on their turnovers, the Sonics committed another 22 against the Heat, bringing their five-game total to 107. Rashard Lewis, who did not commit any in a loss at Orlando on Monday, had five; Vin Baker and Ewing each had four; and Desmond Mason and Payton had two each.

“I think we are being too aggressive,” Baker said. “I don’t think it is a situation where we are thinking too much, I think it is a situation where we are being too aggressive with the ball, trying to make passes that aren’t there, and they are becoming turnovers. We are not being patient enough.”

It also didn’t help that Brian Grant had a monstrous night. Grant, acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in a three-team deal during the summer, never has been known as a scorer. But he changed that reputation against the Sonics.

Heat coach Pat Riley was saying before the game that they had Grant – averaging 16.7 points and 11 rebounds – rated as the third-best power forward in the game. He did nothing to dissuade that argument Wednesday.

Grant had 30 points and 21 rebounds, knocking down jumpers, getting offensive rebounds and putbacks, doing nearly everything to even the Heat’s record at 2-2.

“He was phenomenal,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said. “They unleashed him offensively. I don’t think he has ever been a go-to guy in his career, but he has been this year. This is the second or third time he has gone off this season. He was sensational. He dominated the game.”

The Sonics continue to show an ability to come back, but an inability to parlay that into a victory. Primarily because they hurt themselves. At the same time they were coming back in the fourth quarter, they missed 3-of-5 free throws and turned over the ball six times, three times in the final five minutes.

Down 17 points, they cut the lead to 78-75 with 1:59 to go. After Grant scored, Lewis turned over the ball, leading to another Grant basket with 1:30 left that put Miami up by seven.

The Sonics trimmed the lead to four, and had a chance to cut it to one or two with less than a minute left. Lewis missed a wide-open 3-pointer, but the Sonics got the rebound. Payton missed a wide-open 3-pointer, but again the Sonics got the rebound. They called a timeout

Coming out of the timeout, Baker inexplicably took a 3-pointer from the wing that missed, leading to free throws by Bruce Bowen.

“That wasn’t exactly the play,” Westphal said.

“We’re losing incredible,” Payton said. “We come back, then we turn the ball over, we take crazy shots. It could be a lot of stuff. It might be the nucleus of the team, that we ain’t jelling right. It could be the young guys sometimes. It’s just something we’ve got to work out. It’s only five games.

“Hopefully it’s something that we fix sooner rather than later.”

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