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Saturday, October 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:23 AM

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So far, flaws grow for Sonics

Seattle Times staff reporter

Perhaps the Sonics peaked too soon.

Ever since their exhibition opener when their smothering defense suffocated Portland in the second half and produced a blowout victory, the Sonics have dropped three consecutive games, which isn't necessarily cause for concern.

What's more alarming is that any progress the team has made in readying itself for the Nov. 1 regular-season opener against the Trail Blazers has been offset by a series of setbacks and gaping flaws coach Bob Hill has yet to resolve.

Defending the painted area, squeezing points out of low post and limiting turnovers continue to be problems. The centers have failed to make noticeable gains and Chris Wilcox, the $24 million free-agent signee, has yet to find a consistent rhythm along with every other role player.

So far, Hill's offensive plan can be described as "Rashard, Ray and then pray."

In the 103-95 defeat Friday against Portland in KeyArena, Ray Allen tallied 16 points and Rashard Lewis had 12. They each played 24 minutes, seeing action in just the first and third quarters.

"The importance of winning these games is not that great," Allen said. "Because we play them [the Blazers] in a game that counts for real, we're not showing everything. ... Even still, everybody needs to do what they need to do to get ready for the season."

Today

Seattle @ L.A. Clippers, 7:30 p.m., KTTH (770 AM)

Luke Ridnour, in his best game of the preseason, finished with 13 points and six assists, but it wasn't enough to win the home exhibition opener in front of an announced crowd of 14,061.

"That's the first night that I've played when I haven't really been banged up," said Ridnour, who's been bothered by a thumb injury. "I'm just now starting to feel better."

Ridnour might have rebounded from three lackluster performances. Wilcox, however, has been held to less than 10 points in three different games. Against Zach Randolph, he finished with two points on 0-for-3 shooting, and the Portland forward scored a game-high 22.

"I just wasn't going to double-team Randolph," Hill said. "I told them, you got to go play him straight up."

Against single coverage, Randolph converted 9 of 15 shots. Whenever he missed, center Joel Przybilla cleaned up his mistakes and collected a game-high 10 rebounds.

Hill admitted he intentionally played a generic defense and plans to change his rotations in the final exhibitions.

Even so, the game allowed him to evaluate Robert Swift, who finished with six points and six rebounds in his first preseason start and appears as if he'll keep the job for the game tonight at the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rookie center Mouhamed Sene (two points in five minutes) made an unspectacular home debut and Johan Petro, who was scoreless in seven minutes, didn't play in the second half and continues a downward descent.

Rather than rely on the inexperienced centers in the second half, Hill turned to forward Danny Fortson, who played for the first time since Jan. 13. In eight minutes, he contributed six points and three rebounds.

"I felt tired," Fortson said. "But I can do this. I can play this role."

Aside from a spirited third quarter, when the Sonics (1-3) erased a 54-43 halftime deficit and took a 68-66 lead late in the period, Portland (1-3) dominated because of Randolph and former University of Washington standout Brandon Roy, who had 19 points.

The Trail Blazers also received 17 points from Juan Dixon, 16 from Ime Udoka and Travis Outlaw had 12.

After holding Portland to 89 points in the opener, the Sonics have allowed at least 100 points in every game. The Blazers, which shot 62.1 percent from the field, took the lead late in the third quarter and never looked back.

The Sonics reserves played the entire fourth quarter and Damien Wilkins had 12 points.

NOTES

• The Sonics exercised the fourth-year team option on Swift and the third-year team option on Petro for the 2007-08 season.

• The roster stands at 17 after the Sonics waived free agent forward Kenny Adeleke.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

PORTLAND — Udoka 6-9 2-2 16, Randolph 9-15 4-4 22, Przybilla 1-2 0-0 2, Jack 3-6 3-3 9, Roy 4-7 11-12 19, Dixon 6-10 3-3 17, Magloire 2-2 0-2 4, Hamilton 1-1 0-0 2, Outlaw 4-6 4-4 12, Rodriguez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 36-58 27-30 103.

SEATTLE — Ras.Lewis 4-8 4-4 12, Wilcox 0-3 2-2 2, Swift 2-5 2-2 6, Allen 7-15 0-0 16, Ridnour 5-7 2-3 13, Collison 4-7 0-0 8, Petro 0-2 0-0 0, Wilkins 5-9 2-2 12, Gelabale 3-9 0-0 7, Watson 2-5 3-3 8, Sene 2-3 0-0 4, Fortson 2-2 2-2 6, Farmer 0-2 1-2 1, Palacio 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 36-77 18-20 95.

Portland 30 24 22 27 — 103
Seattle 22 21 29 23 — 95
Three-point goals — Portland 4-8 (Dixon 2-3, Udoka 2-4, Roy 0-1), Seattle 5-16 (Allen 2-7, Ridnour 1-2, Gelabale 1-2, Watson 1-3, Ras.Lewis 0-1, Farmer 0-1). Rebounds — Portland 31 (Przybilla 10), Seattle 37 (Swift 6). Assists — Portland 18 (Udoka 5), Seattle 21 (Ridnour 6). Total fouls — Portland 27, Seattle 28. Technicals — Portland Defensive Three Second, Seattle Defensive Three Second, Seattle coach Hill. A — 14,061 (17,072).

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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