As far as psychiatrists know, there is no sure-fire way of forcing a schizophrenic to jump from one personality to the next. That makes it anyone's guess as to what the Seattle SuperSonics will do this afternoon against the Utah Jazz in the deciding game of the NBA Western Conference Finals.
If they return to moving both their feet and the ball on offense and pressuring the Jazz all over the court on defense, that, combined with their superior talent and the homecourt advantage should be enough to salvage a best-of-seven series they once led 3-1.But if they continue to take turns going one-on-one - or, as in Game 6, one-on-five - and allow the Jazz to run plays unfettered, they will become only the sixth team in NBA history to blow a best-of-seven series by losing three games in a row.
Whatever happens, the Sonics already have reconfirmed their reputation as one of the league's most enigmatic teams, appearing amazingly balanced, aggressive and confident at certain times and disorganized, listless and uncertain at others.
Which squad will turn up today? The Sonics who did not lose three games in a row at any time this season, or the team that bickered its way to losing three in a row in its previous two playoff runs, resulting in first-round upsets by the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets?
The latter group clearly re-emerged in Game 6 Thursday, a 118-83 blowout by the Jazz. As the Sonics were getting trampled at both ends of the court, their fragile tapestry appeared to be unravelling, with no one becoming more unhinged than point guard Gary Payton.
On the floor he picked up a technical foul after several warnings from referee Jess Kersey for battering John Stockton, both physically and verbally. And on the Seattle bench, everyone from reserve guard David Wingate to assistant coach Tim Grgurich got in his ear trying to calm him down.
But Payton wasn't alone. Shawn Kemp also appeared unhappy with his teammates. Co-captain Nate McMillan hopes the air can be cleared before they take the floor today.
"You don't want to be pointing fingers at your teammates, but I'm sure we'll have some comments for each other," McMillan said.
At least the Sonics seem aware that they have had as much to do with putting themselves on the brink of disaster as Utah has. As Payton said, "We can't worry about what they're doing. We've got to solve our own stuff."
As the Jazz have. Coach Jerry Sloan has disarmed the Sonics' trapping defense by moving his small forward - either Bryon Russell or Chris Morris - from the wing to the baseline. That has prevented Detlef Schrempf or Vince Askew, the Sonics' small forwards, from trapping point guard John Stockton, which would force the ball out of his hands and eat up seconds on the shot clock before the Jazz could start a play.
"If we're going to trap, someone else will have to do it," Schrempf said.
Sloan also has figured out which of his players match up best against the Sonics since losing the first two games. Russell, who averaged only nine minutes per game during the regular season and 15 minutes in Games 1 and 2, has logged an average of 37 minutes over the past four games of this series, more than any other small forward. He has earned it with ballhawking defense that has eliminated Schrempf as a post-up threat and has knocked down enough shots (15 points on 48 percent shooting over the past four games) to give Sloan an alternative when Morris, the starter, decides to break off plays or forgets his defensive assignments.
The Sonics, however, have done plenty to stop themselves, particularly with their indecisiveness moving the ball. That not only has led to a rash of turnovers - 19 and 23 in the past two losses - but also has hampered their three-point shooting accuracy. Through the first four games of the series, when they moved the ball quickly to the open man, the Sonics knocked down 36 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. But in the past two games, they've double-clutched the ball before passing it, resulting in identical 5-for-18 efforts, a 27 percent clip.
In any event, Coach George Karl knows as well as any psychiatrist that there are no magic words to get his team to switch back from the Bad Sonics to the Good Sonics.
"I think the best thing for me is to stay away from my team and give credit to the Utah Jazz," Karl said after Game 6. "Getting ready for the seventh game of the Western Conference championship, I don't know if you need Knute Rockne in your locker room."
Now if Sigmund Freud were available . . .