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On The Beat: Western Conference, Northwest Division (December 16, 2004)

Seattle Supersonics (18-4)

The Sonics continue to shoot the lights out against the opposition continuing to prove that their surprising start is no fluke.  They have won five of their last six games, nine of their last eleven, and of course eighteen of their last twenty-two.  The Sonics are fifth in the league in scoring (100.2 points a game), and is second only behind the equally hot, Phoenix Suns, in 3-pointers made and attempted.  On the defensive end, The Sonics are ninth in points allowed with 93.9 a game…  The Sonics have been carried over their last stretch of games largely behind the clutch shooting of F-Rashard Lewis.  Over the last eight games, Lewis has been averaging 23.9 points a game, including 37 points in the Sonics latest 108-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.  Also, F-Vladimir Radmonovic is stepping up his game.  In the past six games, Radmonovic has been averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game…  G-Ronald “Flip” Murray returned to the team after missing the first 19 games because of with a left quadriceps strain.  In the two games since he returned, Murray has averaged 1.0 points in just over 10 minutes a game.  Murray was a pleasant surprise last season as he arrived out of nowhere to average 12.4 points a game.  He filled in admirably when G-Ray Allen was injured last year.  However, it will be difficult to find a role for Murray on the team due to the excellent play of Allen, G-Antonio Daniels, and G-Luke Ridnour.  The team placed C-Robert Swift on the injured list with a strained right hip and G-Damien Wilkins on the injured list with right knee tendonitis after activating Murray and C- Vitaly Potapenko…  The Sonics management and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels are likely to ask state lawmakers for more than $200 million to pay for a major renovation of KeyArena and pay down the debt from the building's 1995 remodel.

Minnesota Timberwolves (14-8)

Its sometimes difficult to figure out the Timberwolves.  As one of the favorites to win the NBA championship this year, the T-wolves have loss two of their last three games to lowly Eastern teams, Chicago and Toronto.  Prior to this, the T-wolves had won seven of eight games beating impressive teams such as Sacramento and Phoenix…  Reigning MVP, F-Kevin Garnett is continuing his elite play.  He has led the team in points, rebounds, and assists in 11 games, and is posting remarkable season averages of 23.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.7 blocks a game – all leading the team.  He will undoubtedly be a strong MVP contender this season…  Another revelation on the team has been the outstanding play of oft-troubled F-Eddie Griffin.  Signed in the summer, after taking last season of for drug recovery purposes, Griffin has rounded into form playing besides Garnett.  In his last seven games, Griffin has been averaging 15.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks a game coming of the bench.  During the span he made 33 3-pointers where he is shooting 49.3%…  Earlier in the month, G-Latrell Sprewell was suspended for one game for his behavior during the T-wolves victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.  In that game, Sprewell yelled out to a heckler to, “Suck My ”.  He also yelled out to another female fan, “ you ”.  His actions was all captured on camera.   

Denver Nuggets (13-9)

One gets the feeling that the Nuggets are finally starting to put it all together to play at the level expected from them going into the season.  After a 2-5 start, the Nuggets have won 11 of their last 14 games, which have included two 4-game winning streaks.  The have faltered a little, losing 2 of their past three games to Eastern teams, Philadelphia and New York…  F-Carmelo Anthony is starting to round into the form that sees him projected as one the games next superstar, after a slow start to the season.  In his last seven games, Anthony has been averaging 26.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 47% from the field.  Anthony has been embroiled in a number of controversies since the summer that has included being labeled a selfish egomaniac during the Olympics by Coach Larry Brown; being detained for marijuana possession (charges later dropped), a fight in the nightclub; and most recently, having appeared in a DVD with drug-dealers promoting a message that snitchers will get a “hole in the head”…  Another player who is starting to pick it up is PG-Andre Miller.  In the last six games, Miller has averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds a game…  The Nuggets are in the market to acquire a perimeter player to fill the void left by G-Voshon Lenard who is out for the season.  Rumors say that the Nuggets have their eye on Orlando’s G-Cuttino Mobley, who will become a free agent at the end of the year…  Earlier in the month, G-Rodney White pleaded guilty to two weapons charges and agreed to 100 hours of community service to get a third charge dropped. 

Portland Trailblazers (10-11)

The Blazers have lost five of their last seven games, although those losses came against tough opponents including Cleveland, Minnesota, Phoenix, and Seattle.  On paper, the Blazers look like they have plenty of firepower, but yet ranks near the bottom in the league in points scored a game (90.4 a game; 24th in the NBA).  On the flip side, the team have been one of the better defensive teams in the league allowing only 92.1 points a game, 5th best in the league…  A silver lining in their losing skid has been the excellent play of F-Darius Miles.  In his last seven games, Miles has averaged 14.3 points in 26.6 minutes a game coming of the bench…  The Blazers will look to make some trades before the February trade deadline.  Carrying one of the highest payrolls (second highest behind New York), the team hopes to be able to dump some salary, although at the same time they will take players with equal-to-higher salaries if the deal is right.  Rumored to be on the trading block is F-Shareef Abdul-Rahim ($14.6M), G-Nick Van Exel ($11.8M), G-Damon Stoudamire ($12.5M), and G-Derek Anderson ($8.4M)…  Players from the team helped coach Maurice Cheeks pay of a $7500 fine resulting from arguing with official during the team’s loss to the Utah Jazz.  The team felt that the coach got the fine for simply sticking up for them.     

Utah Jazz (10-13)

After a promising start 6-1 start, the Jazz have spiraled to the bottom of the Northwest Division.  Since their star player F-Andrei Kirilenko went down to injury late November, the Jazz has loss seven of their last nine games.  F-Matt Harpring has filled in for Kirilenko averaging 16.8 points in his absense…  The bad news continued when the team learned that Kirilenko would be out a month longer than expected.  Kirilenko will likely be out for another month with a sprained MCL in his right knee.  Kirilenko suffered the injury during a 109-76 loss at San Antonio.  When he left, Kirilenko was second on the Jazz in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (7.2).  He was also leading the NBA with an astounding 4.43 blocks per game…  A rift in the clubhouse between Coach Jerry Sloan and PG-Carlos Arroyo has caused some tension.  The rift developed during the Jazz’s 93-91 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, when the two started arguing at courtside.  Arroyo was subsequently removed as a starter for the Jazz’ latest game, a 86-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns.  They are reportedly not speaking with each other…  Earlier in the month, the Jazz activated PG-Raul Lopez from the injured list and placed G-Keith McLeod on the injured list.  Lopez has been on the injured list since November and had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.  In the five games since his return, the Spaniard has averaged 1.6 points and 4.0 assists in just over 11 minutes a game.