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SuperSonics Remain on Pins and Needles

NBA playoffs: Although a berth in the finals is only one victory away, Seattle is the one feeling the pressure.

May 30, 1996|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SALT LAKE CITY — It's just as the headline said in Wednesday's Salt Lake Tribune:

"Hey, Sonics, this look like Chicago?"

Definitely not.

If anything, this looks like trouble for the powerhouse that isn't, the Seattle SuperSonics, winners of 64 games during the regular season, the 10th most in NBA history, and still with everything to prove. Such as, what they are made of.

The SuperSonics are still very much in control of the Western Conference finals, knowing it would take three consecutive defeats for them to lose the series in a season during which they lost two in a row only once. On the other hand, one of those is already on the books, and it allowed the Utah Jazz to get to 3-2 and come home with a chance to tie when Game 6 is played tonight at the Delta Center.

"They're in a good situation, basically," Seattle's Gary Payton said of the Jazz.

Which is strange, considering that the Jazz is, after all, the team that has trailed from the start of the series. And, in truth, Utah is only in a good situation when you consider the alternative. Players could have spent Wednesday cleaning out their lockers, not practicing.

But the SuperSonics losing in overtime Tuesday night opened much more than an opportunity for the underdogs. The defeat opened the wound of the playoff disasters of years past. Seattle finished with four turnovers in the final five possessions. Payton was the only one willing to take a clutch shot. Shawn Kemp was his only teammate to score in the final 10:29. All of this at home, with a trip to the finals as the carrot.

"I'd say they were rattled just a little," Antoine Carr of the Jazz said.

If you rattle against the Jazz, what will you do against the Bulls, they of the three first-team selections to the all-defense squad?

So at the most critical time of the season, the SuperSonics suddenly find themselves trying to regroup.

"I'm more angry right now. I'm not disappointed," Payton said. "I'm very angry we didn't do what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to take care of it at home. But we didn't, and we just made it harder on ourselves.

"We're fine. We just got to stick together. Got to put this behind us."

This would be a good time to start.

"They're not in a die-situation at this point," Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said. "They've got another opportunity. We don't have a tomorrow."

But the Jazz has a tonight.

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