Sonics detour the glory road

For some peculiar reason the Seattle SuperSonics, the National Basketball Association's defending champions, never get the glory ratings they deserve. For example, probably more words have been written about the Los Angeles Lakers this season because of their super rookie Magic Johnson than Seattle. Yet it's the Sonics who continue to lead the NBA's Pacific Division.

The fact is probably no team in pro basketball plays the game with more aggressiveness, intensity, and togetherness than Seattle. Clearly they are one of the best coached, best balanced, consistently motivated, unselfish organizations in pro sports.

Often Seattle, because of its tough defense, wins on nights when its shooters aren't that brilliant. Nevertheless, the Sonics are also capable of putting a lot of quick points on the scoreboard, especially when they run the fast break. And their role players (particularly Paul Silas and Tom LaGarde) are forever sacrificing their own offense to do all the little things that make a winner but don't necessarily show up in a box score.

Quietly, which in his way, Head Coach Lenny Wilkens is grooming Seattle to become the first team to win back- to-back NBA playoff titles since the 1969 Boston Celtics. But he isn't talking about it; he's just doing it.

Asked why the Sonics had not made even one trade during the off-season, Wilkens replied:

"When you already have good, young players that you know are going to continue to improve, it is better to stay with what you have. While several teams approached us with deals, in our opinion none of the players offered would have helped our balance.

"We had some problems winning early in the season because we somehow got the idea that we could just walk out on the court and beat anybody. This is often what happens to a team coming off a championship year. They forget that it takes work. But once we got our intensity back, it was not trouble winning again."

One reason Seattle has been so consistently strong is because it is such a great rebounding team, seldom giving opponents more than one shot at the basket.

The Sonics have people who can get them the ball in center Jack Sikma and forwards Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson. It also has two starting guards who know what to do with the ball in Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, who lead the team in offense.

Sikma, who is 6 ft. 11 in. and 230 pounds, is extremely aggressive and plays with the same intensity that Boston's Dave Cowens did when he first came into the league. While Jack won't give you 20 points a night, the way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier will, Sikma covers a lot more of the court than they do and will dive for loose balls.

Shelton is another player who uses his body and hands a lot, scores important points, and makes his opponents pay a physical price on defense. Johnson, more subdued but just as smart, completes what is basically a perfect blend to consistency.

The Sonics guard-oriented offense plays mostly to Williams and Dennis Johnson (the MVP in last year's playoffs) and Fred (Downtown) Brown, who can score from anywhere on the court.

Tom LaGarde does a great job of filling in for Sikma at center, and Paul Silas, despite his years, is still one of the best clutch rebounders in the league. In fact, Silas probably knows as much about his teammates' moods as Wilkens does.

"When players have been together as long as most of the people on this club have been together, boredom often sets in," Silas explained. "It's not that you don't like each other any more, it's just that you need something -- anything -- that will bring freshness to the situation.

"I think maybe losing some games we should have won early in the season was actually good for us, because it woke us up," Paul continued. "I don't think we'll make that mistake again. I also think we'll do well again the playoffs because we're awfully good at beating the same team three or four times in a row. And this is what you have to do to win a championship."

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