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Sonics Are Down, but Not Quite Out

Times Staff Writer

Included in Xavier McDaniel’s video library is a horrific flick that may be one of the most gruesome of its genre. Too intense for certain basketball players from Seattle, it warrants an X-rating from the X-man.

The video is of Game 4 of the 1986-87 NBA Western Conference finals. The Lakers completed a series sweep over the SuperSonics with a brutally dominating 31-point victory in Seattle after a close win in Game 3.

McDaniel and his SuperSonic teammates might be looking at a sequel today in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Coliseum. The Lakers, surviving a late Seattle comeback Friday night in Game 3, have a 3-0 series lead and certainly wouldn’t mind a similar script this time.

“I used to watch that film all summer to get motivated and make sure it didn’t happen again,” McDaniel said Saturday. “But this (series) is the same thing that happened two years ago. It’s frustrating, what’s happened. There were a couple games we could’ve won (in 1987), and we had a chance in (Games) 1 and 3 this year.”

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Will McDaniel have a private screening of the 1987 blowout before today’s game? “I don’t want to be reminded,” McDaniel said. “I think it’s back in South Carolina, anyway.”

But reminders of the SuperSonics’ circumstance are everywhere. No National Basketball Assn. team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

At least one SuperSonic, guard Dale Ellis, apparently was unaware of that daunting statistic.

“Anything can happen,” said Ellis when asked if the situation was hopeless. “It’s hard to picture us winning the series, but we definitely can win tomorrow. And maybe we can win it (the series). It’s been done, right?’

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Predictably, the Lakers said Seattle still is capable of winning, especially at home. But Laker Coach Pat Riley changed the team’s practice time Saturday to late afternoon, ostensibly to watch Phoenix and Golden State play on television.

“I don’t want the players to think about it, but we (the coaches) have to,” Riley said. “We did a lot of X-ing and O-ing off the TV.”

Given the situation, the SuperSonics seem realistic, not fatalistic about this series. Even if the SuperSonics win today, they would have to win two games at the Forum, where the Lakers have been particularly dominant, to advance.

Faced with such an obstacle, McDaniel said he is searching for motivation for today’s game. Pride in beating the Lakers at least once in the playoffs did not seem to appeal to him. Neither does the prospect of avoiding a repeat of the 1987 embarrassment.

“That will matter if they end up winning the series,” McDaniel said. “All they got to do is win one. If we win three games and then lose the series in Game 7, we’re still losers. We’ll still get frustrated. There’s nothing you can (take) from that. They win, we lose.”

Ellis, however, had not prepared his concession speech.

“We’re not conceding anything,” Ellis said. “Bernie (Bickerstaff, Seattle’s coach) just wants us to come out and play hard. The Lakers are playing great basketball. And if they play like they did in Game 2 (a 22-point victory), then it’s over. But we had chances to win Games 1 and 3.”

In Game 1, the SuperSonics led early in the fourth quarter before the Lakers pressured them into turnovers and secured an 11-point victory.

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Then, after being throughly beaten in Game 2, the SuperSonics lost, 91-86, despite making only 36% of their shots. They overcame a 15-point deficit early in the fourth quarter by using a half-court trap with a small lineup that included Avery Johnson and Jerry Reynolds. It forced the Lakers into seven fourth-quarter turnovers. Los Angeles did not make a field goal in the final 7:38 but held on to win by making 10 consecutive free throws in the final 3:19.

“We have to correct it, and I’m sure that’s what we’ll work on in practice,” said Magic Johnson, who had nine turnovers Friday night. “But we still won the game and we just have to correct what went wrong.”

Although the SuperSonics came close Friday night, the Lakers have dominated the series.

The Lakers, despite making only 46% of their shots in Game 3, have averaged 50.4% for the series. The SuperSonics, meanwhile, have shot 44.8%. McDaniel is shooting only 45%, Ellis 44%. The Lakers have made 99 of 123 free throws; Seattle is 46 of 69.

Ellis said the Laker defense has had little to do with the SuperSonics’ poor shooting. He said Seattle’s problems have been self-inflicted.

“I’m not crediting their defense for anything,” Ellis said. “It’s just us not hitting the open shots. We looked at the films this morning, and we’re missing open shots.”

Riley, who has praised the Laker defense in the series, bristled when told of Ellis’ comments. Riley then somewhat sarcastically agreed with Ellis.

“They shot 36% because they just missed,” Riley said. “I’ll buy that.”

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Now that they have the SuperSonics on the verge of elimination, the Lakers seemingly were careful not to rile their dazed opponent.

But the Lakers admitted that they want the series to end today so they can move on to more serious challenges. They, too, remember what happened in Game 4 of the 1987 series, and they want a repeat.

“I hope history does repeat itself,” Riley said. “I wouldn’t mind that at all.”

Should it not, however, and should the series return to the Forum for Game 5 Tuesday night, the Lakers say they will finish it there. No way, they said, will they squander a 3-0 series lead.

“It won’t happen while I’m here,” Johnson said.

Laker Notes

Historical footnote: Not only has no NBA team ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, but only once has a team prolonged the series to seven games after losing the first three. It happened in 1951, when Rochester took a 3-0 lead over New York, then lost the next three games before winning Game 7 at home.


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