Monday , Apr , 11 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Points in the Paint

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The Seattle SuperSonics look like a
club that could have a very short run ahead of them in the 2005 NBA playoffs.

Seattle is battling injuries to some of its key players and is having trouble
earning the Northwest Division crown. The struggling SuperSonics will try
once again to lock up the division title when they welcome the playoff-bound
Houston Rockets on Monday to KeyArena.

The Sonics are attempting to win their first division title since 1997-98,
when they went 61-21 and won their third consecutive Pacific Division title.
Seattle has posted 50 wins for just the 10th time in franchise history and
first since the 1997-98 campaign.

All-Star forward Rashard Lewis has been hampered by a foot injury that has
caused him to miss seven straight games entering the contest against the
Rockets. Guard Antonio Daniels and forward Danny Fortson are also dealing with
some nagging injuries.

Lewis, who was an NBA All-Star for the first time this season, has played in
67 games this season and is second on the team in scoring at 20.7 points per
game. He has also posted 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per contest.

Ray Allen, who is a a five-time All-Star, has teamed with Lewis to make up one
of the most potent one-two scoring combinations in the league. The 29-year-old
Allen leads the club in scoring (23.9 ppg) and has also registered 4.4 boards
and 3.7 assists per game. He has scored in double-digits in 72 of the 73 games
that he has played in this season for Seattle.

With Lewis, who last played in a game on March 27th at home against
Washington, out of the lineup, the Sonics have dropped four in a row and five
of their last seven games overall. It is clear that Seattle is missing Lewis’
presence on offense, as teams are able to focus on primarily stopping Allen
which makes it more difficult for the Sonics’ offense to get into any kind of
rhythm. With Allen and Lewis on the court, the opposition has to spread
its defense and that allows Seattle to move the ball more effectively around
the perimeter.

Seattle, which should eventually clinch the division and the third spot in the
conference, needs a healthy Lewis for the postseason or it will be in big
trouble. Daniels, Fortson, Ronald Murray, Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Ridnour
are a solid supporting cast, but the Sonics’ two All-Stars are the keys to any
kind of success they will have in the playoffs.

Radmanovic is Seattle’s third leading scorer (11.8 ppg), while Ridnour is
averaging a team-best 5.9 assists. Fortson provides a nasty attitude down low,
while Murray is a versatile guard who can add a big spark offensively off the
bench when the team needs it.

The bottom line is that Seattle needs a healthy roster if it hopes to compete
and win some games in the postseason. Without Allen and Lewis operating at
full force, the once high-powered offense becomes very ordinary. The Sonics
have some nice role players, but they are not capable of inflicting the same
damage that Lewis is capable of. Allen and Lewis give Seattle a pair of stars
that are capable of taking over a game as well as possibly winning a seven-
game series.

Phoenix and San Antonio will be the top two seeds in the conference when the
playoffs arrive. The Sonics will play the sixth seed, assuming they capture
the division, which could be Sacramento, Houston, Denver or Memphis. The
Nuggets and Grizzlies are on the verge of locking up the final two berths in
the playoff race in the West.

The Sonics are not a team that is going to strike fear into their
opponents. They are not the same club that won 18 of their first 21 games
to start the campaign. Seattle’s intensity has dropped a notch and it looks
like they could be a squad that is just happy to be participating in the
postseason.

Don’t be surprised if Seattle bows out in the first round of the playoffs!