The Sonics improved to 2-0 under their new coach with a 121-88 victory over the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night. The Lakers had a five-game winning streak broken.
The Sonics led by 31 points at halftime and the fans at the Key Arena were chanting "Nate, Nate, Nate" in the final 1:46.
Paul Westphal was fired Monday when the Sonics were 3-6 and replaced by the popular McMillan, who was an assistant coach under Westphal after playing 12 seasons for the Sonics. Seattle won its first game under McMillan Tuesday night at Portland.
"I think Nate McMillan is going to be a great coach," said the Lakers' Horace Grant, who played last season with Seattle. "I think what you saw tonight proved that.
Gary Payton led the Sonics with 27 points, while Vin Baker, who spent most of his time in Westphal's doghouse this season, had 20 points and nine rebounds.
McMillan has put Baker on the bench as Patrick Ewing's backup at center. Led by Baker, Seattle's reserves outscored the Lakers' bench 60-20.
"Coach McMillan came in tonight and said, 'This is what we expect,'" Baker said. "I'm pretty confident this can continue."
While Westphal sometimes publicly criticized Baker, McMillan is praisinhim.
"Vin has responded both offensively and defensively," McMillan said.
Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers with 23 points and Kobe Bryant had 17.
The 6-foot-11 Baker made the less mobile O'Neal play defense with slashing moves to the basket. O'Neal finished with four fouls and seven rebounds.
"They did everything right and it was just one of those nights for us," O'Neal said. "They played very well. We tried to come back, but they just hit shot after shot."
The Lakers shot a dismal 1-for-20 from 3-point range, including 0-for-4 by Bryant. But a lot of that was because of the Sonics' harassing defense.
"We're winning because of our effort," McMillan said.
The game was more or less over at halftime when the Sonics left the court with a 74-43 lead. After Ruben Wolkowyski got a rebound in the final seconds, the fans gave the Sonics a standing ovation and then erupted with even louder applause when Rashard Lewis sank a 3-pointer to end the half.
With Payton on the bench for a rest at the start of the second quarter, the Sonics outscored the Lakers 13-2 to take a 20-point lead, 47-27. Desmond Mason, a rookie from Oklahoma State, contributed a fast-break dunk, an 18-footer and a 3-pointer.
The Sonics outscored the Lakers 40-18 in the second quarter, hitting five of seven 3-point attempts. Los Angeles was 1-for-20 from 3-point range.
The Lakers got within 22 points when Bryant drove the baseline for a layup with 1:28 left in the third quarter, but Baker responded with a layup. Bryant sank two free throws with 47.2 seconds left in the period to cut the Lakers' deficit to 22 again before Baker's driving layup. With 20.4 seconds left in the third quarter, Bryant was charged with an offensive foul against Ruben Patterson, his fifth, and came out of the game.
Shammond Williams made a 15-footer with two seconds on the clock to give Seattle a 34-25 lead at the end of the first period.
McMillan used 11 players and Lewis played the most minutes with 36. Payton and Baker each played 34.
The Lakers suffered their biggest loss of the season. In fact, they didn't lose a game by 33 points last season when they won their title in Jackson's first season in Los Angeles.
"Basketball seasons aren't over in Nvember," Jackson said. "But it looked like we didn't didn't deserve to be on the same court with them tonight."
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