Thursday , Apr , 21 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Seattle vs. Sacramento

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Seattle vs. Sacramento *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: 3rd Seed, West (52-30)

SACRAMENTO KINGS: 6th Seed, West (50-32)

(Sports Network) – The third-seeded Seattle SuperSonics return to the
postseason after a two-year absence, as they will battle with the sixth-seeded
Sacramento Kings in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the 2005
NBA playoffs.

The Kings and Sonics will meet for the second time in the postseason. In 1996,
Seattle defeated Sacramento, 3-1, in the first round.

Seattle was a pleasant surprise this season, as it captured the Northwest
Division and won its first division title since 1997-98, when it went 61-21
and won its third consecutive Pacific Division crown. The Sonics posted 50 or
more wins for just the 10th time in franchise history and first since the
1997-98 campaign.

All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were unbelievable this season for the
Sonics. Allen, who played in 78 contests this season, averaged a team-best
23.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while Lewis contributed 20.5 points
and 5.5 boards in 71 games.

The Sonics’ offense runs through Allen and Lewis and their success will
continue to depend heavily on the performance of the two All-Stars. However,
Seattle also has guards Luke Ridnour and Antonio Daniels, who has been
battling a nagging knee injury. Ridnour averaged 10 points and a team-high 5.9
assists in second season in the league, while Daniels was fourth on the club
in scoring at 11.2 points per game.

Forward Vladimir Radmanovic was having a solid season until he suffered a
stress fracture of his right fibula in March. He played in 63 games and
averaged 11.8 points and 4.6 boards before the injury sidelined him for the
remainder of the season. Without Radmanovic, Seattle’s offense is not as
effective as he gives them another dangerous threat from three-point
range. Radmanovic would have had a big impact if he would have been healthy
for this series.

Seattle struggled at the end of the regular season, as it lost its last two
contests and dropped eight of its last 10 games overall. The Sonics are not
the same team that won 17 of their first 20 games to open the 2004-05
campaign.

Sacramento, which qualified for the playoffs for a seventh straight year,
enters the postseason playing solid basketball. The Kings crushed the top-
seeded Phoenix Suns, 132-105, in their season finale and ended with five wins
it their last seven games overall.

The Kings made a bold move during the regular season, as they traded forward
Chris Webber, arguably their best player, prior to the trade deadline to
Philadelphia in a six-player deal that landed forwards Kenny Thomas, Brian
Skinner and Corliss Williamson in Sacramento.

After dealing Webber, the Kings went 16-12 and were able to stay in the thick
of the playoff race. Sacramento is a much different team, as forward Peja
Stojakovic, who is battling a groin injury, and guard Mike Bibby are the go-to
players. Two-time All-Star center Brad Miller is trying to comeback from a
broken leg, and shooting guard Cuttino Mobley, who was acquired from Orlando
for Doug Christie, is relied upon heavily on offense.

Stojakovic averaged a team-best 20.1 points in 66 games this season, while
Bibby played in 80 contests and contributed 19.8 points and a team-high 6.8
assists per game. Before Miller went down with his injury, he was averaging
15.6 points and a team-high 9.3 boards.

Thomas has played very well since being traded to Sacramento, and has become a
key figure on the team. He scored in double-digits in 21 of the 26 games he
played in for the Kings, and recorded eight double-doubles in that span.

The last time Sacramento was knocked out in the first round was in 1999 when
it fell five games to Utah, while the Sonics have not won a playoff series
since 1998 when they defeated Minnesota in the opening round.

During the regular season, the Sonics defeated the Kings in three of the four
contests between the clubs. Seattle swept the two games at KeyArena, while the
teams split a pair of contests at ARCO Arena.

FRONTCOURT: The Kings have some question marks, as Stojakovic and Miller are
both trying to get healthy for the playoffs. The sharp-shooting Stojakovic
should be ready to go, while Miller’s status is still up in the air. Thomas
and Skinner, who sprained his right foot in the season finale against the
Suns, have played very well for Sacramento, and will most likely join
Stojakovic up front. Skinner, who has been a decent center for the Kings,
could be replaced in the starting lineup by Miller if the former All-Star can
comeback.

The Sonics will counter with forwards Reggie Evans and Lewis and center Jerome
James. James and Evans are not threats offensively, but both play tough
defense and are solid rebounders. Evans averaged a team-high 9.4 rebounds this
season for Seattle. Lewis will provide the scoring up front and will need to
work off the screens that Evans and James set to get open looks at the basket.

This is not the strength of either squad. However, this could be the x-factor
in the series as the frontcourt that performs best could end up leading its
club to victory.

EDGE: SACRAMENTO

BACKCOURT: Bibby and Mobley vs. Ridnour and Allen is a solid matchup.

Bibby and Mobley can both light it up from anywhere on the court. When Bibby
is at his best, Sacramento’s offense runs like a machine. He is able to
penetrate and draw the defense in, which allows Mobley and Stojakovic to get
open looks from beyond the arc.

Mobley, who averaged 17.2 points in 66 games for Orlando and Sacramento this
season, has fit in with the Kings style of offense. He does not play the
tenacious defense that Christie provided, but he is a better shooter and can
hold his own when asked to make a stop defensively.

The five-time All-star Allen is the key for the Sonics. He has been through
the playoff wars before, as he has participated in 26 postseason contests
during his nine-year career. His experience will prove to be valuable in
helping Ridnour play through any playoff jitters he may have.

Bibby should be able to have his way with Ridnour. Bibby is a smart player and
he will be able use his experience to take advantage of this matchup.

EDGE: SACRAMENTO

BENCH: Once again, Miller’s health is a key. If he can come back, Sacramento
becomes a much deeper club. The Kings got fiery guard Bobby Jackson back for
the last game of the season, as he had been out for an extended period with a
left wrist injury. Jackson only played 25 games this season and saw his first
action since December 21st.

Darius Songaila and Williamson will also see some minutes off Sacramento’s
bench. The two forwards will provide some rebounding and scoring from the low
post. Songaila averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds, while Williamson checked
in with 10.3 points and 3.6 boards for Sacramento and Philadelphia during the
regular season.

Nick Collison, Daniels, Danny Fortson and Ronald Murray are the key reserves
for the Sonics. Daniels and Murray will be asked to provide a spark
offensively when Ridnour and Allen are resting, while Fortson, who averaged
7.5 points and 5.6 boards in 62 games, is physical and tries to intimidate the
opposition with his play in the middle. Collison can add some offense in the
low post and is solid off the glass.

EDGE: EVEN

COACH: Rick Adelman completed is 15th season as an NBA coach and seventh with
Sacramento. He has guided the Kings to three Pacific Division titles and seven
straight postseason appearance. A former head coach of Portland and Golden
State, Adelman led the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals appearances (1990,
1992).

Nate McMillan was named Seattle’s interim head coach on November 27, 2000 and
then received a four-year contract on March 27, 2001. He spent his entire 12-
year playing career with the Sonics and was a defensive standout during his
days as a player. McMillan is in the final year of his contract and has done
his best job as a coach in the 2004-05 campaign.

EDGE: SACRAMENTO

PREDICTION: The Sonics will rely heavily on Allen and Lewis to carry the load,
while Sacramento needs a total team effort to be effective. The team should
win here.

SACRAMENTO IN SIX

SAC SEA