Sonics have talent, can new coach make use of it?

Dec 5, 2000 8:15 AM

Teams are still getting acclimated to NBA’s new season, almost one-quarter complete, yet we’ve already had our first coaching casualty.

Seattle relieved Paul Westphal of his duties last Monday. The Sonics responded well to assistant Nate McMillan’s appointment as interim coach, winning three of their next four games, including a 33-point blowout win over the Lakers. They’re still below .500 and figure to struggle to make the playoffs, but last week’s efforts show there’s talent on a team that only occasionally showed up to play in the season’s opening month.

Philadelphia owned the league’s top mark at 14-2 to begin the week, but the Western Conference continues to dominate the East. Ten of 14 Western teams posted winning records thus far.

Only five Eastern teams are above .500, as just New York and Charlotte join the 76ers with records more than two games above the break-even mark.

Utah and San Antonio continue to pace the Midwest Division, as expected, but another surprise team, Dallas, appears poised to mount a challenge to their supremacy, much as Minnesota did last season.

In the Pacific Division, Sacramento, the Lakers and Phoenix lead the way, with inconsistent Portland in close pursuit.

Golden State’s talented players have yet to mesh into a team, but show potential for improvement. They might be a good value as an underdog, but not for another few weeks.

Here’s a look at some games this weekend.

Friday, Dec. 8

Philadelphia at Portland -- Philadelphia continues their trip out West. They’re rested after playing at the Lakers on Tuesday. Western teams have feasted on Eastern Conference teams this season, but Philly presents a solid challenge to teams west of the Mississippi.

The Sixers have a solid frontcourt with Theo Ratliff, Tyrone Hill and George Lynch, in addition to the explosive Allen Iverson.

Portland again is very deep, but the chemistry appears different from last season. Perhaps the loss of Brian Grant has been felt more than just on the court.

Scottie Pippen continues to show his age and is becoming less reliable. Portland should be a very small favorite in this spot, but Philadelphia is more than capable of pulling the upset, regardless of how they fared in Los Angeles.

This could be a money line play, with Philadelphia projected to win by from 4-to-7 points.

Saturday, Dec. 9

Charlotte at Indiana -- The Hornets begin the week having won seven of 10 games. Indiana is slumping, losing seven of 10.

New Indiana coach Isiah Thomas can’t push the right buttons or make the right moves in crunch time. The Pacers have blown several late leads. Jalen Rose should be more of a factor for Indiana as he gets closer to full strength after being sidelined with an injury at the start of the season.

Charlotte continues to battle injuries, yet has received tremendous backcourt play from the tandem of David Wesley and Baron Davis.

The Pacers figure to be slight favorites but, given their inability to close out foes, they can’t yet be trusted to lay anything more than a bucket. An outright upset by Charlotte would be no surprise at all -- but at plus a trey or more, the Hornets are worth a selection.

Sunday, Dec. 10

Miami at Sacramento -- Miami has been an enigma. Despite the absence of Alonzo Mourning, the Heat can’t build up commanding leads. But twice within the past week they’ve been unable to hold them, including blowing a fourth-quarter, 22-point lead over struggling Milwaukee.

Sacramento, playing with great confidence and chemistry, has won seven of eight home games, where they draw very enthusiastic crowds.

This game features a contrast of styles. Miami prefers a more deliberate pace. Sacramento is more inclined to force the tempo.

Both teams last played on Friday, but Miami had to make the cross-country trip. The Kings conclude a 10-day home stand.

Sacramento should pull away late and win by 8-to-12 points. A weary Miami team is still struggling to find the right combinations with their revamped roster.


JB’s NBA picks

Thurs., Dec. 7

Den @ Orl Orl by 6
NY @ SA SA by 4
Phx @ Milw Milw by 4
Wash @ Minn Minn by 10
Van @ Utah Utah by 13

Fri., Dec. 8

Ind @ Bst Bst by 2
Atl @ Mia Mia by 7
Phx @ NJ NJ by 2
LAC @ Char Char by 10
Chi @ Dal Dal by 12
Phil @ Port Port by 5
Sea @ LAL LAL by 9
Hst @ Sac Sac by 7
Tor @ GS GS by 3

Sat., Dec. 9

Char @ Ind Ind by 4
Den @ NY NY by 8
Atl @ Clev Clev by 9
LAC @ Minn Minn by 11
Chi @ SA SA by 13
Wash @ Milw Milw by 9
GS @ Utah Utah by 11
Det @ Port Port by 12
Hst @ Sea Sea by 7
Phil @ Van Phil by 5

Sun., Dec. 10

Phx @ Tor Tor by 3
Den @ Bst Bst by 5
Dal @ NJ Dal by 2
Mia @ Sac Sac by 8
Det @ LAL LAL by 12
WEEK: 12-12-1
SEASON: 47-42-6