The best news for the Sonics may be that Kemp seems to have shaken the malaise that befell him late in the regular season. He averaged 22.2 points and 14.4 rebounds against Phoenix, numbers he must come close to duplicating for Seattle to get past Houston. "Shawn is back," says Payton. "He'll come up big. I think he actually plays better against Dream and Barkley."
The Sonics' biggest concern against Houston may be their own perimeter defense. Seattle didn't do a very good job of contesting the Suns' three-point attempts during most of the series, and the Rockets have marksmen in point guard Matt Maloney (12 for 21 on three-point attempts against Minnesota) and swingman Mario Elie (8 for 12), who make defenses pay for double-teaming Olajuwon inside. Seattle will also be looking for more contributions from its bench than it received in the first round, and guard David Wingate's performance in Game 5 against Phoenix was an indication that the Sonics may get it. Wingate had 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Suns, including some crucial jump shots in the second half. Perkins, 35, also came to life with 31 points off the bench in the final two games of the series against the Suns, after Phoenix had made him look antiquated in the first three. "I feel like Old Man Winter," he said before Game 4. "Guys are helping me off the bench like I can't do it myself."
Perkins would fit right in on the venerable Rockets. Houston doesn't have Phoenix's young legs, but it does have the rebounding, shooting and experience to make the Sonics pay for their lapses more than Phoenix did. Chapman, however, believes that Seattle can handle Houston and anyone else in the Western Conference.
"I see them going back to the Finals," he said after Game 5. "They're the best team in the West." Then he added the qualifier that for the Sonics is always easier said than done. "All they have to do," Chapman said, "is keep their heads on straight."