SEATTLE (AP)—The knock against Seattle center Jerome James has always been his inconsistency. James insists it’s part of his plan.
“I would just call it my role,” he said Sunday. “Some nights I’m going to score 22 points. Another night, maybe against San Antonio, I’m going to have five blocks and not score a point.”
The 7-foot-1 center had 17 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in Seattle’s 87-82 win over Sacramento on Saturday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“I feel like Nostradamus,” said Seattle’s Ray Allen, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds. “We’ve been trying to tell the big fellow all season that this is what we expect from him. When he comes out like this, I’m not sure we can be beaten.”
The Kings hope to get off to a better start in Game 2 on Tuesday night than they had in Game 1 when they missed their first 10 shots.
“It goes into being confident,” said Sacramento point guard Mike Bibby, who shot 1-for-16. “I missed a couple of shots—a lot of shots actually. You just have to swallow it and go to the next one.”
James had a huge night as the Kings often sent big men Kenny Thomas or Brian Skinner to double-team Allen or Rashard Lewis on the perimeter. The strategy left James with mismatches underneath, and he took advantage.
Seattle coach Nate McMillan called only three or four plays for James, who took 20 shots.
“We didn’t go to Jerome. Jerome went to the boards,” McMillan said. “He got his shots off the glass, which I thought was great. The one thing our bigs have done all season long, they’ve been aggressive on the glass.”
James doesn’t always produce big scoring or rebounding totals, and anyone who has followed his five up-and-down NBA seasons—starting with Sacramento in 1998-99—knows better than to expect much of an encore.
James hears the critics. He chooses to ignore them.
“On Tuesday night if my role is to be the same player I was last night, great for me and great for the team,” he said. “But if it goes back to being a screen-setter, rebounder and shot-blocker, hey, I’m comfortable with that.”
Kings coach Rick Adelman might turn to Brad Miller. The veteran center had seven points in eight minutes as a reserve after missing the last 25 regular season games with a broken left leg.
Another veteran center, Greg Ostertag, also gave the Kings a lift off the bench in the second half to help erase a 21-point deficit. He had six points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
Adelman was forced to experiment with his rotation through the first half, tinkering to find the right chemistry after a rash of late-season injuries.
“When I got Brad and Ostertag on the floor, we had a little bit of size,” Adelman said. “They were killing us on the boards before that.”
The Kings cut it to 83-82 with 42.4 seconds to play after a 3-pointer by Cuttino Mobley, who scored 22. But James answered with a huge basket at the other end, and the Sonics held on.
“You can’t spot a team like Seattle 19 or 21 points and expect to come back and beat them in their gym,” Ostertag said. “It was a valiant effort, but we needed about two more minutes.”
Can James match his Game 1 effort? It’s difficult to say.
The Sonics have learned that after James plays well, he can get overconfident and falter in the next game. But that’s where Allen comes in. He sits next to James in Seattle’s locker room for a reason.
“You see where my locker is?” Allen asked. “I’m in his head at halftime: ‘Jerome, focus. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing.’ I’m always in his head because I need him to help other guys stay focused. … It’s just part of my job to keep his head right.”