The Seattle SuperSonics aren’t about to give up the NBA’s best record without a fight.
After losing three of their previous five games, the Sonics beat a tired New York Knicks team 104-78 Saturday night to improve to 53-18.
At 53-18, Seattle has the West’s second-best mark to Utah’s 53-17 and third-best in the league behind Chicago’s 54-17. With 11 games left, they still hope to finish with the league’s best record so they can have the homecourt advantage through the playoffs.
“Of course it matters getting the top spot,” said Vin Baker, who led the Sonics with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting in 28 minutes. “We’ve worked hard to get that top spot and Tuesday night is the biggest game of the year for us.”
The Sonics will play Utah in Seattle on Tuesday.
“The Golden State loss really hurt us,” Detlef Schrempf said, referring to Seattle’s defeat in Oakland last Thursday night. “That loss put us in a hole. We’re fortunate we have a chance to make up ground Tuesday night.
“We know how important it is to have the best record.”
The Knicks played their fourth road game in five nights after winning in overtime in Vancouver on Friday night. The 26-point defeat was New York’s worst loss of the season.
Baker and Payton, Seattle’s two all-stars, did not play in the final quarter. Payton played 29 minutes.
The Knicks were led by Allan Houston’s 15 points and Larry Johnson’s 14.
“To beat Seattle, you have to handle the ball and defend the 3,” Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “We did that in New York (a 92-91 win Jan. 11). We did neither tonight.”
The Sonics, the top 3-point shooting team in the league, hit 11 of 21 shots from behind the arc. The Knicks, who were averaging 14.5 turnovers a game, had 23 against Seattle, resulting in 26 points for the hosts.
After a short hook shot by Johnson tied the score at 10 with 5:48 gone in the game, it was all Sonics. They went on a 17-4 run to end the first quarter as Hersey Hawkins sank two 3-pointers and a 16-footer to take a 27-14 lead after one period.
Seattle didn’t let up at the start of the second period, getting a 3-pointer from Dale Ellis and four points from Sam Perkins in an 11-4 run for a 38-18 lead. With 4:49 left, the Sonics held their biggest lead at 45-22 of the opening half after a layup by Baker.
Payton came out at the start of the second half and scored on a fast-break layup and a pair of 3-pointers, and Baker added a layup to give Seattle a 66-33 lead with 2:07 gone in the second half.
Payton scored 11 points in the third quarter.
The Knicks’ John Starks left the game with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter after slamming hard into Seattle’s 7-foot Jim McIlvaine. Starks, who had 10 points, grabbed his right thigh and did not return.
“He was available to come back,” Van Gundy said.
The Sonics won their 10th straight at home and are 31-4 in the Key Arena.