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Who Needs Tradition, If It Includes Defeats?

Mon., April 29, 1996, midnight

Say this for the Seattle SuperSonics - they really know how to teach a guy a lesson.

Write off the Nuggets when they were down 0-2 two years ago? Sure did. Dismiss the Lakers after Game 1 last spring? Guilty.

But still, it had to be safe to mock the Sacramento Kings, ridicule them as “Sacrificial,” give them no chance. Lovable losers for a decade, they were after all matched against the new Sonics - the happy Sonics, the at-one-with-the-universe and No. 1 in the Western Conference Sonics.

The don’t-you-dare-mention-the-last-two-chokes Sonics.

So … Sacramento 90, Seattle 81.

Say, Lucy, think you could hold the football while I run up and kick it?

What’s this all about? The Knicks can put it to the Cavaliers twice in Cleveland. The Bulls and Magic and Spurs and Jazz can all take care of business, but the Sonics will board an airplane for Sacramento today having had their serve broken by the Dorf of the NBA playoffs.

Well, it’s tradition. We were crazy to assume anything else.

“I don’t think this is the time to get all shook up and worried about this one game,” protested Sonics coach George Karl.

Probably not, George. The time to get shook up is when you blow the entire series, but can it hurt to get a head start?

Karl, we should remind you, is the fellow who claimed that by winning 64 games during the regular season, the Sonics had “earned the right not to have any expectations” placed on them heading into the playoffs.

Can’t be sure what he meant by that, but the Sonics just lost that right.

They lost it with a fourth-quarter crap-out of - how did we put it the other day? - Normanian proportions. With victory theirs for the taking, the Sonics scored a whopping 14 points, shot 31 percent, turned the ball over six times, forgot how to pass and opted not to guard or rebound.

The Kings, on the other hand, made every shot that counted, beat Seattle to every loose ball, corralled virtually every rebound.

They played with the hunger of a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since Reagan’s first term - which, for the record, they hadn’t. The Sonics love their contributions to playoff lore, don’t they?

Mitch Richmond, Sacramento’s superstud shooter who barely touched the ball for a quarter and a half on Saturday night, was nothing short of sensational Sunday. He ran his assortment of Sonics defenders through an array of nasty picks and screens and threw in some acrobatics when needed - 48 gut-it-up minutes that produced 37 points.

This is why he’s on the Dream Team.

While we’re on the subject, Shawn Kemp’s return to the Seattle lineup after a game in Rod Thorn’s pokey was not quite subtraction by addition, but whatever the math, it didn’t work.

The Sonics welcomed him back by running more plays for Ervin Johnson than for Kemp in the first quarter. Eventually, he broke loose for 21 points, but he also committed four painfully boneheaded turnovers in the last 6 minutes trying to do it all alone. That gave him nine for the game, tying a career high.

That’s not why he’s not on the Dream Team - Charles Barkley gives better market - but it’s why he’s not as feared as you might think.

“My feelings was we needed Shawn Kemp to play well to win, period,” said Karl, asked if he considered going with someone else down the stretch. “I don’t think it’s time to challenge your star to the bench and motivate him that way. I think Shawn’s earned the right to play.”

Now he’s earned the right to go and rebound. That’s where Seattle lost the game, mostly - though you can also credit Sacramento’s better ball movement and the foul trouble that prompted Gary Payton to pretty much check out.

“It’s very frustrating to get out-worked like we did,” said Sonics guard Nate McMillan. “With what’s gone on the last two years, it’s very frustrating.”

Golly. And we thought only the media was thinking in past tense.

“I like this team,” Karl insisted. “You’re going to have to overcome. This is not going to be the only loss we have. We’re going to lose other games. It’s how you come back and learn. Maybe we wish it hadn’t happened in the first round, but that’s not the case. This team has always responded well.”

Added backup forward Frank Brickowski, “If we don’t turn this into a positive, we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”


“It’s one game,” cautioned Kings coach Garry St. Jean, “and it doesn’t change any of my respect for the club next door.”

Mine either.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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