After last weeks crushing loss the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets Sonics guard Ray Allen tried to take a long term view of the season and explained that in any given season we were likely to experience 15 game streaks of highs and lows. As an example he called out the latter half of last season when the team struggled to tie up its division, winning only 3 of 12 games during a stretch of March and April.
When a team is sitting at 5-8 and coming off its third consecutive loss against teams that it seems they should beat handily that type of thinking seems very much like a cop out. The long losing stretches only become less relevant if they are balanced out by even greater periods of solid play and overachievement. Without a few wins to back them up Allenâ€™s words rang pretty hollow to even my own optimistic ears.
So now, riding a modest 3 game winning streak and suddenly starting the season fresh at .500 Allenâ€™s comments have a ring of truth that makes me smile. In the grand scheme of things consecutive losses by 30+ points still only count as one game on the record and the team appears to have recovered from the psychological blow they inflicted
I like to enjoy the good times, and the last two games have qualified. The Sonics returned to the things that made them successful last season, showing off their extensive depth by coming at the opposing teams in waves. Their big men set strong picks and essentially wore down the opposing front lines with their toughness and grit. Luke Ridnour didnâ€™t dominate statistically but played with a savvy and style that elevated the entire team.
These were the 2005-2006 Sonics as advertised. This is the team when all cylinders are firing and none of the things that can go wrong have gone wrong. This exhibition of solid play, combined with a review of some of the earlier losses (Memphis sits at 12 and 5, Cleveland entered their game with Seattle at 10 and 4, and the surprising Clippers are 11 and 5) makes it a little easier to set aside pessimism and look forward to the remainder of the season.
The biggest differences I have noticed in the last couple of games are as follows:
â€¢ Flip Murray showed not only that he could back up the PG position but that he can fill the role of the third scorer. There are areas of Flips game that are terrible but when he plays to his strengths he may be even more effective than Antonio Daniels. The defense simply has no choice but to collapse on his penetration and it changes the game considerably. While his defense is not as good as Daniels was reputed to be (for that matter Daniels was never as good as his reputation) he is now filling the role the team envisioned when the season started. A media member speculated at practice Saturday that that the greatest strength of Murray at PG is the contract between his game and Ridnourâ€™s. Early on there wasnâ€™t much contrast, both players were completely unproductive.
â€¢ The Defense is improved. This team will never be great defensively but the theory is that they have the potential to be so good on offense that so long as they play moderate defense they will be OK. Murray and Radmanovich stepping up their offense to that level(over the last several games the Sonics have led the league offensively) while Danny Fortson and Damien Wilkens have fueled a greater defensive intensity. The team is clamping down at key moments and playing the physical, bruising style frustrates the opposition to no end.
â€¢ The team is exploiting their mismatches instead of being exploited. Last night the team repeatedly went small and forced Indiana to react to them. At every turn it seemed as if the team had one player on the floor who physically forced the opposition to react to them. If you recall the first Cleveland game, as well as other early losses it was the Sups who were forced to adjust to created mismatches.
The Sonics now enter a very winnable two game stretch that should leave them 10-8 and within a game of first place in their division. Given the early struggles it will be a nice landing place for a team that appears to be just hitting its groove.