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Game 58 Preview: Blazers vs. Sonics

Other than the Laker games, these tilts with Seattle are always the highlights of the year.

A Look at the Sonics

Seattle comes into this game with a lowly 21-34 record but they have been playing .500 ball in their last six games.  The upswing in record coincides directly with the return of #2 scorer Rashard Lewis from injury.  Lewis adds another dimension to their offense (otherwise categorized as "All Allen, All the Time").  He's averaging 21 points and over 7 rebounds a game since his return.  He left Saturday's game with a twisted ankle but there's no word this early whether he'll be playing or not.  The aforementioned Allen continues to score like one of those pimply kids in the Tag Body Spray commercials.  His last game he only scored 12, but that broke a string of 10 consecutive games of 25 points or more.  The guy is scary.  Flat-out sick, stupid scary.  He can swish a three-pointer through a crack in the defense too small to fit Paris Hilton's...ummmm... chihuahua through.  The other guy who's been steadily pretty good for them this year is Nick Collison.  Double-digit rebounding efforts seem the norm for him and it's not that unusual to see him in the high teens or twenties scoring as well.

After that the Seattle lineup gets more sporadic.  Point guard Luke Ridnour can deliver the ball but only scores sometimes and can't defend ever.  Co-point guard (they switch back and forth depending on the coach's whim) Earl Watson can score big points but doesn't always pass, seldom shoots a high percentage, and also ignores defense.  (What's the Golden Rule, children?  "If you have two point guards splitting time neither one of them is very good." [Do note the Mark Price/Terrell Brandon exception clause though.])  Power forward Chris Wilcox should be very good but many nights just isn't.  Example:  5 games ago--25 pts. 7 rebs.  The next game?  5 and 7.  Then 13 and 15, then 7 and 4, then 8 and 4.  And he's playing decent minutes in almost all those games.  (Unfortunately this probably means he's in for a big one.)  Their centers are young, injured, or sometimes just icky.  They along with the rest of the bench are just random, tending towards the low side.

In short they've got enough weapons to be dangerous but not enough consistency to be good.  Or even pretty good.

Seattle will run, run, run you every chance they get.  This is the one time when everybody on their team is dangerous...when they're loosely guarded and get a head of steam towards the basket.  Even their otherwise handicapped big men will make you suffer if you let them free around the hoop.  They are not great rebounders or shot blockers and other than Ridnour they don't have many guys who can pass the ball.  When they're not running they play a lot from the perimeter, which limits their foul shots.  They shoot a surprisingly high percentage for an outside-oriented team but they let their opponents shoot an amazing percentage in return, which effectively kills them most nights.  It's hard to stay ahead or make runs from behind when you're shooting from distance.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  Transition defense is a huge key tonight.  If they don't run free they have a much harder time winning.  Dunks and layups for them will be huge.
  2.  Points in the paint will be the big stat for us.  If we try to bomb along with them they're going to win the battle.  And make no mistake, they invite you to do just that.  We've got to take it deep inside, draw fouls, and have our guards cut and drive.
  3.  The strategy really changes with Lewis back in the lineup.  (Whether he plays might be the most important factor of the evening.)  Without him you figure to lock down on Ray Allen, try to hold him to 22 or less, then make everybody else beat you.  With him in there you can't lock down on Allen as tight and if you try there's someone else in there who CAN beat you.  Basically someone (Ime, Travis, maybe Lamarcus?) is going to have to step up big against Lewis while Roy tries to hold his own against Sweet Baby Ray.  If either one of those proves impossible--especially if our guys get into early foul trouble--it's going to be a long evening.  Stay in front of your man, stay out of foul trouble.
  4.  You cannot (CANNOT!) sag down off of the Seattle skill players nor can you go underneath picks on them.  If you do every darn one of them will put a long-distance shot right in the bullseye.  Our guards had better be prepared to fight through screens.  We can't zone them either as that's an open invitation for them to shish-kabob our fannies from the arc.
  5.  This is another game where Zach really has a chance to be the man.  They're not going to be intimidating his shot in there.  They are going to throw 300 different guys against him all eager to burn fouls rather than let him score easy.  He could get 15 shots from the charity stripe tonight if he works it right.  When that happens it's usually a 30-point game for him.
  6.  If Earl Watson wants to shoot the damn ball...LET HIM!
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)