Two things Brent Barry never expected to see in San Antonio:
1. A six-game stretch in which he hoisted 17 three-pointers and missed them all.
2. His old team racking up the W's as frequently as his new team.
Barry, furthermore, can only explain one of those developments ... and it's not the first one.
"I'm not surprised that they're winning ballgames -- only the rate at which they're winning," Barry said of the Seattle SuperSonics, who bring their stunning (to most of us) 15-3 record into the SBC Center on Wednesday night for a showdown with the 16-3 Spurs.
"I think there's a major difference this year. They have guys that will clean up on the glass, and that's one thing that's really been missing the last couple years. Whenever you have a good shooting team, you need to have as many bullets in your gun as you can."
Perhaps it's time to start calling them the Seattle Bullets. The Supes continue to shoot the ball at a ridiculous clip -- 45.1 percent, good for ninth in the league and glorious for a perimeter-based offense -- but it's not that success rate or even their league-leading percentage from three-point range (.396) that has triggered such a quality start.
The key? Seattle ranks fourth in the league in rebound margin -- 2.8 per game. Last season, before the arrival of Danny Fortson and with Nick Collison missing all 82 games through injury, Seattle ranked 26th at minus-3.4 rebounds per game. Fortson, Collison and Reggie Evans are an undersized but effective triumvirate. So far.
"If you have six or seven more possessions a game, and three of those possessions you're making three-point shots, that's nine extra points every night," Barry said. "People don't realize how significant that is."
Because of the Sonics' success, carrying their good start into December after starts of 6-2 and 8-2 the past two seasons flamed out, people are starting to figure it out.
Barry, meanwhile, is hoping that Sonics' arrival can spark him into the start of a recovery from a rough opening month in San Antonio. Widely billed as one of the most influential free-agent acquisitions in the league, the 10-year vet followed a perfect night against Dallas on Nov. 24 (12 points on 4-for-4 shooting) with an 0-for-17 showing on threes in the next six games.
The best explanation Barry can offer is that he's trying too hard to justify his four-year, $20 million contract. This sort of slump is an unusual problem for a guy who finished second in the league in three-point shooting in 2003-04 at 45.2 percent, so, while adjusting to a new defense-first system and playing without the ball in his hands are factors, settling on the main culprit isn't simple.
"Oh, it's been brutal," said Barry, who's shooting 40 percent overall, including just 30 percent on threes, and averaging 7.5 points in 22.7 minutes.
"It's been fun to win, but I just haven't found my rhythm yet. I'm hoping in the next couple of games and next couple of weeks that I'll be able to work myself out of it. I'm just trying to be patient with myself. I'm really disappointed in the way I've started off, but not to the point where I'm going to give up on things. It just makes it easier sleeping at night -- my wife's making me sleep on the couch until I start shooting the ball better."
The only solace for Barry when he sees his stat line?
His friends with the Sonics are less likely to joke that he was the one holding them back until now.
Unfortunately ... "It's more like the guys on my team here are saying they picked up the dead weight from Seattle," Barry said.
For the record, he was joking. And Barry hasn't come close to losing the support of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, even if he has lost some minutes recently. Popovich has been quick to say that management will not slip into a funk about its lone marquee summer signing, even if that's where Barry is.
I'm hearing ...
That the Spurs aren't celebrating yet, but they're more optimistic than ever about convincing Karl Malone to sign with them after Jan. 1. Malone doesn't want to play anywhere until after the holidays, but Minnesota's signing of Eddie Griffin and now Malone's displeasure with Kobe Bryant make San Antonio the clear favorite to import Mailman for the second half. Also don't forget that while Malone doesn't want to move his family again, his wife is from San Antonio ...
And that Shawn Marion is playing his way out of any trade considerations, after considerable speculation that the lanky small forward would ultimately be dealt for a big man and to make more rotation room for Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson. Suns insiders are saying that Steve Nash has done as much for Marion as he has for Amare Stoudemire. Nash's presence has taken the thinking out of the game for Marion, enabling him to focus on defense and rebounding and use his all-around athleticism for some supreme garbage-collecting. Trading Marion was always going to be difficult because of his hefty contract, but the way he has meshed with Nash and Stoudemire is giving the Suns pause. You don't find many small forwards who can average 19.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, all without the benefit of plays called on his behalf....
And that Southern Methodist University tried to hire Rolando Blackman as their head coach in the off-season, but Blackman spurned the Mustangs (as well as the Knicks) to stay with the Mavericks in player development.
Happy birthday, Dwight Howard. The No. 1 overall pick celebrates No. 19 on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, bringing double-double averages (10.5 points, 10.4 rebounds) with him.
Talk about holding people back.
Dirk Nowitzki leads the league in scoring, at 27.7 points per game. Nash leads the league in assists, at 10.9 nightly.
Obviously these two had to be separated.