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A Little Faith Might Pay Off Later for Ellis and Seattle

SuperSonics: Karl knows he needs scoring production from the bench. Veteran guard's four three-point shots give a hint of what he has left.

May 09, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was only a modest line at the bottom of the Seattle SuperSonics' scoring sheet.

It read: Dale Ellis--Minutes: 26; Field goals attempted: 8; Field goals made: 6; Three-pointers attempted: 6; Three-pointers made: 4; Points: 16.

In the wake of the Lakers' dominating 119-103 victory over Seattle on Friday night, that line doesn't tell you much about the game.

Or even about Ellis.

But it tells you an awful lot about Seattle Coach George Karl.

It tells you why Karl has lasted 11 years in the NBA despite never winning a championship.

It tells you why he would probably be the Clippers' top choice to become their new coach if SuperSonic owner Barry Ackerley decides not to re-sign Karl, who will be a free agent at season's end.

It tells you why, in an age when coaches are choked in public and ripped in private by their players, the SuperSonic players want to see Karl come back.

It's all about communication, about building bridges over troubled waters between a coach and his players caused by a difference in income, in age, in culture.

Karl knows who his big guns are in this series. He knows that if his SuperSonics are to come back and win this series, he must get points out of Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf and Hersey Hawkins. He must get production in the frontcourt out of Vin Baker and off the bench from Jerome Kersey.

But Karl also knows he needs production from anywhere on that bench he can find it.

Once upon a time, Ellis was known for his production. And he didn't spend much time on the bench. In a 15-year career that included stops in Dallas, Seattle, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Denver and back to Seattle this season, Ellis averaged 16.4 points, including four consecutive seasons when he averaged no fewer than 23.5 points per game.

Ellis is 37 and those days are over. But Karl wasn't about to give up on him. Not even when Ellis disappeared in the first two games of this series, going two for six from the floor in the first game and zero for six in Game 2.

So Karl, despite being faced with the pivotal third game of the Western Conference semifinals, decided even before the game began that he needed to get Ellis into the game so he could get him back into the series mentally.

"I want to get him into the game early," Karl said, "because I think he can help us. I think he needs to know I believe in him."

After the game, Ellis wasn't interested in talking about Karl's belief in him or in his playing time.

"I haven't been shooting the ball well," he said, "but I don't want to talk about playing time."

But Ellis did want to talk about his belief that this series is far from over.

"We played around with this team," he said. "We let them get easy baskets. When we tried to come back at the end, they were in their rhythm. It's a game of spurts. They are going to make a run, and we are going to make a run."

And, Ellis is convinced, the SuperSonics still have a few runs left.

"We feel we are a much better team than we showed," he said. "We feel we play our best at the defensive end. Tonight we tried to beat them on the offensive end. On the defensive end, we just didn't come tonight. If a guy makes a run at the basket, at least get a hand in his face."

Ellis is confident things will be different in Game 4 on Sunday.

"The odds are that they can't keep shooting like they did," he said.

And the odds are that Ellis will continue to shoot well, because his coach showed a little faith in him.

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