The Seattle SuperSonics are sending a contingent of three south to Los Angeles for 2004 All-Star Weekend – guards Ray Allen
and Ronald “Flip” Murray
, who are competing in Sunday’s All-Star Game matinee and tonight’s got milk? Rookie Challenge, respectively, and forward Rashard Lewis
, who will try to bring home the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout championship.
Muray has been one of the NBA’s most improved players.
The Sonics franchise’s participation in All-Star Weekend actually begins this afternoon with Storm guard Sue Bird
, who will take the floor in the All-Star Celebrity game, which Bird is playing in for the second straight season. Fans can get a first-hand look at how Bird’s rehabilitation from off-season knee surgery is progressing.
The spotlight than moves to Murray, whose remarkable improvement during his second season was rewarded with a selection to the Sophomore squad. After playing just 62 minutes as a rookie, Murray is averaging 13.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season. Only three players on the Sophomore squad – All-Star Yao Ming, Rookie of the Year Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer – are averaging more points per game.
To Murray, being selected for the Rookie Challenge validates his own opinion that he can play with anyone in the 2002 Draft, when he was selected 42nd by the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I see myself as better than most of those guards that were out there anyway, even though I was picked in the second round, you know how that goes,” Murray said earlier this week. “I feel that I can play with anybody before me, first round or second round.”
The got milk? Rookie Challenge has been known for up-and-down play with little defense, similar to its cousin, the All-Star Game. Last year, the teams combined for 244 points in a 40-minute game. The style should be ideal for Murray to display his athleticism and dunking ability.
“I’m going to go out there and play basketball, go out there and play basketball like I know how, have fun with it,” Murray said about the style.
On All-Star Saturday Night, the Sonics headliner will be Lewis, who is making his second appearance in the Three-Point Shootout. In 2001, his first season as a starter, Lewis participated and finished sixth, scoring 12 points. Lewis believes his experience was a big reason he didn’t perform better.
“The first time I went, third year in the NBA, first time at an All-Star Game, I think I was more star-struck than anything and just happy to be at an All-Star Game for the first time in my whole life,” he explained. “More nervous than anything, and didn’t know anybody, just star-struck. This year I’m going to be more comfortable, know more people, be more relaxed. I’ve played in a lot of NBA games, my sixth year in the league, so I’m a lot more comfortable.”
Lewis is one of the league’s top outside marksman.
A sprained right wrist suffered last week briefly threatened Lewis’ Shootout participation, but after struggling with his shot on Sunday at Portland, he got back on track this week. Still, the injury, along with the Sonics brutal schedule at the start of February – seven games in 12 days – left Lewis unable to get much practice in for the Shootout.
Lewis has on his side hot shooting in recent games. In the month of February, Lewis has canned a remarkable 22-of-43 (51.2%) from three-point range. That’s brought his season accuracy to 41.8%, good for 15th in the NBA. Lewis is fifth in the league with 104 three-pointers made.
The leader in that category, with 145, is Sacramento Kings forward Predrag Stojakovic, the two-time defending Shootout Champion and favorite this year. Lewis knows he’s in for a tough test from Stojakovic, referring to him as “Larry Bird Jr.” in this morning’s Seattle Times - a reference to the Celtics great whose record three Shootout championships (shared with Chicago’s Craig Hodges) Stojakovic is trying to tie this season.
Sonics guard Brent Barry was initially picked to join Lewis in the Shootout, but is unable to participate after breaking the fourth metacarpal bone on his right hand. One area Lewis won’t be able to replace Barry is in dancing, after Barry did an impromptu c-walk after last year’s first round.
“I thought about it,” Lewis said about a dance of his own. “I think it fit Brent better than me, because he’s the class clown, the joker. I think it fit him better and make me look stupid, but I thought about it.”
In the All-Star Game, Allen will make his first appearance since joining the Sonics and the fourth of his NBA career. Allen was selected to three straight Eastern Conference All-Star teams with the Milwaukee Bucks, from 2000-2002, before a numbers crunch at guard in the East caused him to be left out last season. Despite Allen’s undeniable ability, his All-Star selection was still a surprise because he missed the first 25 games of this season following ankle surgery.
This is Allen’s first All-Star Game with the Sonics.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
Allen had plans to spend the weekend in Las Vegas, but gladly cancelled them and moved a family get-together to Los Angeles.
“There isn't any other place I'd rather be than Los Angeles,” Allen told media after being named to the team. “It's one of the best honors an NBA player can receive.”
The importance of being an All-Star was driven home by last season’s omission.
“I enjoyed myself, but I would rather have been in Atlanta last year, and I wasn't,” Allen explained. “And I thought about all the reasons why I wasn't, and that always surpasses anything else.”
There was some question of whether Allen should have made the All-Star team despite the time he missed. In particular, Nuggets guard Andre Miller questioned Allen’s selection, telling Denver-area media, “You reward guys who are doing OK but haven't played half the season. Ray Allen is very talented and good but he has played half the season.”
Sonics Coach Nate McMillan – and his fellow Western Conference coaches, who choose reserves – disagreed.
“He's having an All-Star season since returning,” McMillan said. “That's a legitimate selection.”
Allen gives the Sonics an All-Star representative for the 11th consecutive All-Star Game. The last time they were not represented was 1992 (there was no All-Star Game played in 1999 because of the NBA’s lockout).
For more information on All-Star weekend, check out NBA.com's All-Star section.