By FRANK HUGHES
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s one thing for the Seattle SuperSonics to look in disarray because they are not familiar with one another.
But it’s entirely another thing to appear completely lethargic, stunned, disconsolate and clueless, as they did in a 126-91 waxing by the New Jersey Nets Saturday afternoon at Continental Airlines Arena.
This was more than turnovers, although there were plenty – a season-high 31 – which didn’t help matters. Point guard Gary Payton had nine by himself.
The Sonics had a look of disinterest Saturday, allowing the Nets so many layups the crew at the arena may need to check the backboard for dents.
“It couldn’t be any worse,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said. “Horrible basketball by the Sonics. There is no excuse for us falling apart like that. That was a total collapse. Take your pick, there is not much you can find that was any good on our side.”
This was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for Patrick Ewing, the first time he returned to the New York metropolitan area since he was traded from the Knicks to the Sonics over the summer.
Instead, it was a celebration of talent for Stephon Marbury, who scored a season-high 41 points – one shy of his career high – often scoring so easily it made one wonder if the Sonics weren’t transparent mirages.
Payton was the unfortunate recipient of many of Marbury’s shots and moves, but Westphal said his teammates completely disregarded the game plan, which called to double-team Marbury in the same fashion that the Nets doubled Payton.
For his part, Payton said somebody – anybody – needed to take the initiative to knock Marbury on his rear.
“He kept getting layup after layup,” Payton said. “We (weren’t) doing nothing. Shoot, if he keeps getting layup after layup, I’d keep going to the (darn) basket, too. You can’t let a guy of his caliber keep going to the basket. You’ve got to knock him on his butt or something. He felt free to go in there, hey, you might as well go in and get your money.”
The loss was Seattle’s fourth in the past five games and leaves the Sonics at 2-5. The Sonics will close out this five-game road trip today at Detroit, and it still is possible to salvage a somewhat respectable 2-3 record.
But that will not erase some of the memories of losses in Orlando and Miami, but particularly against the Nets.
Ewing must not have the following he once held here. While his return has been promoted by the New York papers for more than a week, the arena was more than half empty.
“It’s not the way I would have liked to come back here,” Ewing said.
The Sonics had hoped to get a lift from the return of Brent Barry, who flew to New York from Seattle on Friday to join the team after missing the first six games of the season with a sprained left ankle. But it would not have mattered if it was Rick Barry who flew to join the team.
This was a Nets team that had averaged just 91 points a game, shooting only 42 percent, both sixth-worst in the NBA. But against the Sonics, New Jersey dropped 65 percent of its shots through the first three quarters, when the game was decided.
New Jersey reached its scoring average before the end of the third quarter. In that quarter, the Nets opened with a 17-3 run, with many of New Jersey’s points barely being defended. Of their 17 third-quarter field goals, 11 were layups. Of New Jersey’s 467 field goals to that point, 26 were layups or dunks.
For the game, the Nets had 29 dunks or layups. After every layup that forced a timeout, Marbury – who has dubbed himself Starbury – ran around the arena waving his arms in the air while the Sonics retired to their bench wondering what, exactly, they were doing.
“We should have played defense,” Westphal said. “Instead, we threw the ball to them and didn’t get back. This was the worst performance we’ve had, by far. It was a total and complete horrible performance by us in every way.”
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