Like many with pro basketball ties to Seattle, Nate McMillan has been holding out hope that something could be done to keep the SuperSonics in the city.
So it was hard not to be disappointed during All-Star weekend when NBA commissioner David Stern said he sees no chance of that happening.
``When your commissioner speaks and he says something like that, it really grabs everybody's attention,'' McMillan said. ``Until they're gone, I think the city is going to fight to try to keep them there as long as possible. But yeah, those were huge words by commissioner Stern.''
McMillan, coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, is known as ``Mr. Sonic'' for his years as a player and coach in Seattle. Two of his players, Brandon Roy and Martell Webster, are from Seattle, joining the likes of New York's Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, and Jason Terry of Dallas as current NBA players from the Emerald City.
And Crawford wonders if not having an NBA team in Seattle will affect how many future kids get interested in basketball.
``I struck up a relationship with Gary Payton and he kind of took me under his wing and I was able to be around the facility and stuff like that,'' Crawford said. ``It'd be disheartening not to have a team there. Kids grow up watching that. You grow up watching Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, guys like that. Nate McMillan.''
The Sonics could end up in Oklahoma City as early as next season if Seattle is unable to force the team to fulfill the remainder of its lease at Key Arena, which runs through 2010.
A last-ditch attempt by a group of wealthy investors to buy the team and keep it in Seattle with publicly funded improvements to the arena seems unlikely. State lawmakers said there's not enough time to consider their proposal and owner Clay Bennett, who's from Oklahoma City, has shown no interest in selling the team.
Roy will miss the Portland-Seattle rivalry, but he feels worse for players like Crawford and Robinson, who don't have a chance to make the cross-country trip home often.
``I don't like it,'' he said. ``I'm disappointed. I know them more than me because that's their only chance to come back, go back home. I'm so close I can go home as much as possible.
``That's a game I think we can all say we mark at the beginning. Growing up in Seattle I've always expected the Sonics to be there, and to not have a team in Seattle, it's going to be weird. I'm disappointed especially, Portland and Seattle, we could have had a really good rivalry. It's sad to see them leave.''
Sad even for those who aren't from Seattle. Steve Nash grew up a couple of hours away in British Columbia and watched Sonics games on TV.
``We were almost all Sonics fans, Seahawks fans, Mariner fans,'' he said. ``And to see a sports city, a city that's a top market, one of the top sporting markets, a great basketball town with a tradition at all levels, it's sad for me to see the NBA, to see a stop on the circuit like this one and a city lose its team that's been so passionate about their franchise for so long.''
BIG STREAK, BIG BUSINESS: The Houston Rockets' record-setting winning streak became big business.
The streak reached 22 wins, second-longest in NBA history, before the Boston Celtics beat the Rockets 94-74 on Tuesday night. That game delivered a 1.7 national rating for TNT, the network's highest-rated game in the regular season since Chicago's victory against Miami in the 2006-07 season opener.
The NBA celebrated the streak with the creation of a T-shirt reading, ``Houston Rockets, Where winning streaks happen,'' above the No. 22. The shirt began selling Friday at for $17.99.
The Web site and the NBA Store in New York saw a triple-digit increase in Rockets merchandise over the same period last year, and game-day sales at the Toyota Center were up 30 percent during the streak. Visits to the Rockets' page on during the streak, which began Jan. 27, were 86 percent higher than the same dates last year.
JEFFERSON'S D: For the first three-quarters of the season, Al Jefferson put most of his energy and focus into becoming an offensive force in his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Now that he is firmly established as a legitimate threat on the offensive end - averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds - Jefferson is starting to improve on the defensive of the floor.
Coach Randy Wittman benched Jefferson last week in a win against Seattle because he was unhappy with Jefferson's effort on defense. This week, Jefferson responded.
He had four blocks and played great weakside help defense in a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, then took a charge and was an imposing presence in a comeback win against Memphis on Wednesday.
``I've got to give him props,'' Wittman said. ``The last two games, defensively, he's stepped up. He drew a charge (Wednesday night). I told him, 'Now you made the mistake of showing me you can take a charge. I didn't know if you could do it.'
``So I expect that.''
Jefferson laughed when told of Wittman's comments, but he knows he has to become a more complete player if he is to lead the young Timberwolves and one day be an All-Star.
``I keep showing him stuff and now he's going to be expecting that,'' Jefferson said. ``But to be honest, I used to be the leader of taking charges in Boston a couple years ago. It's something I got away from and it's something I've got to get back. My shot-blocking game, too. It's kind of a big step.''
Jefferson has used his superior footwork and soft hands to show a dazzling array of low post moves that make him so difficult to handle on the low block. Wittman said those same skills translate to defense.
``You guys all talk about his footwork and his quickness and his hands and his anticipation,'' Wittman said. ``Well, that's all on defense, too. That just doesn't correlate to being a good offensive player. It's just the mind-set and you have to commit to doing it.''
His offensive game certainly hasn't slipped because of the increased effort on defense. Jefferson had 29 points and 13 rebounds to rally the Wolves past the Grizzlies on Wednesday. He also had six offensive rebounds in that game, breaking Felton Spencer's franchise record for offensive boards in a season with 15 games to go.
But Jefferson knows he has plenty of work to do.
``Coach really challenged me about my defensive game. That's something he said is going to help me become one of the best players in this game, being able to play defense and offense,'' he said. ``That's something I'm working on and the way I use my footwork on offense, I can also use that on defense.''
TOURNEY TALK: North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis and UCLA, the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, have placed a total of 32 players on current NBA rosters. The Tar Heels and Bruins led the way with 10 each.
The school with the best representation in the league this season is Connecticut, which was the No. 4 seed in the West Region. The Huskies have 13 players on NBA rosters, including 2008 All-Stars Ray Allen (Boston), Richard Hamilton (Detroit) and Caron Butler (Washington).
Allen, an eight-time All-Star, is generally considered the best player from UConn. But Milwaukee center Jake Voskuhl, who played with Hamilton on the Huskies' 1999 national championship team, said a case could be made for his former teammate, since Hamilton has the team success that Allen doesn't.
Hamilton is a three-time All-Star and won titles in college and the pros. Allen did neither.
``Depends how you look at it,'' Voskuhl said. ``You look at individual success or do you look at team success? Because Rip's had team success and individual success, because he's been an All-Star a couple of years and at the same time he's won a championship.
``If you look at it overall, Rip has had individual success, not the individual success that Ray's had, but he's had the team success that Ray hasn't had. So I'd find it to be a toss-up between Rip and Ray, and considering I played with Rip, I'd have to vote for Rip.''
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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