By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE – Over the years, Patrick Ewing has enjoyed a good many highlights against the Miami Heat.
Why, then, shouldn’t he excel once more against his longtime rivals, even though he no longer has a New York address?
On Friday night, in one of his best games of the season, the new Seattle SuperSonics center dropped in his first eight attempts from the field to help set an inside offensive tone against the visiting Heat. Ewing, who finished with 16 points, added 10 rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot in Seattle’s impressive 99-81 victory.
“The big guy was the Pat of old,” beamed Sonics coach Nate McMillan.
Ewing’s best moments came early in the second half, which began with the teams tied 44-44. Ewing put the Sonics on top to stay with a short hook shot, then swatted away an attempt by Miami’s Brian Grant seconds later. After Seattle’s Shammond Williams scored, Ewing made a steal and was rewarded with an 18-foot baseline jumper. After another Ewing steal and another Ewing field goal, and the Sonics were up 52-44 with Heat coach Pat Riley disgustedly signaling a timeout.
Those eight unanswered points followed a 9-0 Seattle run to close the second quarter, taking the Sonics from a 44-35 deficit to a 52-44 margin. The lead was 16 points after three quarters and reached a high of 20 three times in the fourth period. Finally, with four minutes to go, Riley surrendered by putting the last of his starters on the bench.
After the game, Ewing seemed genuinely pleased with his effort. “I felt good,” he said. “I was focused. I felt that I got embarrassed the last time we played them and I wanted to come out and have a great game.”
Ewing actually played adequately in that previous meeting, an 87-81 defeat at Miami on Nov. 8, with 15 points and eight rebounds. But the Sonics did not play well collectively that night, with Grant scorching Seattle with 30 points and 21 rebounds.
Regardless of his incentive, Ewing gave the Sonics the kind of showing they expected when he was acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Knicks.
“He was a beast,” said teammate Jelani McCoy. “That’s our nickname for him and that’s what he did tonight. He’s always going to get ready to play against Miami. He hit some big shots, made his nice top-50 moves, and everything went for him.”
The win improved Seattle’s season record to 13-12, moving the Sonics above .500 for the first time this season. It was also the team’s third straight win – its first such winning streak this year – and it was the seventh victory in 10 games since McMillan replaced Paul Westphal on Nov. 27.
The loss keeps Miami winless in 13 road games against the Sonics. The Heat has never won at the Seattle Center Coliseum, Tacoma Dome and KeyArena since joining the NBA for the 1988-89 season.
Seattle’s Gary Payton suffered a mild right knee sprain late in the first quarter as he stumbled while spinning to the basket. He was clearly bothered by the injury and was just 2-for-9 from the field at halftime, but finished 9-for-23 for 25 points to go with 13 assists.
“Gary is banged up all over the place,” McMillan said. “He has a thigh injury, a back injury, and now a knee injury. The guy just gutted it out. He’s a competitor, he’s a warrior, and he gave his all. He wouldn’t let us lose this game.”
Also injured in the first half was starting guard Emanual Davis. He suffered a mild knee sprain and did not return in the second half.
The Sonics will now enjoy four days off before their next game, a Wednesday night home contest against Pacific Division rival Sacramento. It is Seattle’s longest respite this season, except for the seven-day All-Star break in mid-February.
The team will not practice today, McMillan said, but will have strenuous workouts on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The plan is to implement new defensive strategies that McMillan has been wanting to add since taking over for Westphal.
“It will be a mini-training camp, basically,” McMillan said. “We’ll go hard, but really trying to put in our defense. And offensively, timing and execution. It’s what we need. I don’t know how hard we’ll be able to go and how many guys will be healthy, but we’ll really review what we want to do.”
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