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Finishing Season in Style

There's nothing left to play for in Seattle except pride, but that's not a problem for Ray Allen.

April 09, 2006|From the Associated Press

SEATTLE — The easy move would be for Ray Allen to don an expensive three-piece suit and take a well-earned night off at the end of the bench.

At this point, there's nothing tangible to play for. Allen's Seattle SuperSonics are far removed from any realistic playoff run. He has a thigh bruise that requires extra treatment, needs a specially designed pad for the injury and he's about to be mocked by his own fans for wearing a one-legged pair of tights.

It's a no-brainer, right? Avoid 2 1/2 hours of pain and pounding on the leg.

"If you come out one night and you're cheating the game, cheating yourself, cheating your teammates, you know it inside. And that voice inside me is what's always going to push me and make me stand up and be accounted for and be reputable in this league, in this city and for this team," Allen said.

In a lost season in the Emerald City, where the Sonics have tumbled from the top of the Northwest Division and the team's ownership is in flux, Allen is playing the best ball of his career.

He's scoring 24.6 points per game, the highest average of his 10-year career. Until recently, he was scoring more than 25 per game and was on pace to challenge the NBA record for most three-pointers attempted and made in a season.

"He just respects the game of basketball," teammate Rashard Lewis said.

On a recent night, Allen ignored the pain and led Seattle with 26 points, a distinction he's had in more than half of the games this season. He took numerous shots to the sore thigh and landed flat on his back after getting upended on a drive to the basket.

Even with a five-year, $85 million contract signed last off-season, the six-time All-Star won't let himself take a night off.

"He's a pretty competitive human being and he's got a lot of pride," Seattle Coach Bob Hill said. "I talk to them about personal and professional pride a lot, and he's got a lot of that."

Now in his third full season with the Sonics, Allen firmly is entrenched as the team's leader and spokesman, and the face of the franchise.

Last year, he averaged a career-high 23.9 points and led the Sonics to 52 wins and the division crown. He was even better in the playoffs, scoring 26.5 points and nearly leading the Sonics to an upset of San Antonio.

But he was never regarded as Seattle's leader. That distinction went to coach Nate McMillan -- a man called "Mr. Sonic" after playing and coaching with the franchise for 19 seasons.

With McMillan now in Portland, this season's struggles have weighed even more on Allen.

"It's no fun to think about individual success when as a team you don't make the playoffs," Allen said. "I don't really take pride in what I did because the team didn't do well."

Nevertheless, what Allen has accomplished is noteworthy.

At one point last month, Allen was on pace to set league records for three-pointers made and three-point attempts. Dennis Scott made 267 with Orlando in the 1995-96 season, and Dallas' George McCloud attempted 678 that year.

Allen was on pace for 280 made and 688 attempted, but has fallen off recently. Entering Friday's game in Portland, Allen was on track for 259 made and 647 attempts, and was about to take over second place for career three-pointers made, trailing only Reggie Miller.

"He's always had that great ability to shoot the ball," said Milwaukee Coach Terry Stotts, an assistant with the Bucks for four of Allen's seasons. "He's become a better playmaker. From an offensive standpoint, that's been the biggest way his game has evolved."

Part of Allen's success is due to Seattle's system, in which the majority of the shots are designed for either Allen or Lewis. Seattle's offense often runs Lewis and Allen off screens, or relies on dribble penetration and passes to the perimeter, where Allen awaits.

Part is necessity. For the first two-thirds of this season, Allen and Lewis rarely got scoring help. The pair regularly initiated the action and sometimes forced shots, although Allen has no regrets about the type or amount of shots he's attempted.

"There's nothing shooting wise that I focus on. I just try and take what I'm given," Allen said. "As many 3s as I've taken, I don't think there's a 3 I've taken that I didn't think I could make."

Allen has also been reinvigorated by moves the Sonics made at the trade deadline, acquiring Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson, and getting rid of Vladimir Radmanovic, Reggie Evans, Ronald Murray and Vitaly Potapenko.

Since Feb. 28, when Watson and Wilcox played their first game together, Seattle is playing above .500 and with an energy similar to what propelled the Sonics a year ago.

"Ray, I think he's playing harder now than he did earlier in the season," Hill said. "I think he's really excited about the prospects for next year and all the things we're trying to do to create a foundation."

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