But Seattle has been a solid club all season long. In fact, the Sonics have been on a tear almost as impressive as Phoenix'. The Wednesday victory over L.A. was their 12th straight at home and their seventh win in their last eight games. The Sonics are exceptionally strong in the backcourt, with Slick Watts averaging 13 points a game and going for an unprecedented NBA double, the season leadership in both steals and assists. Fred Brown, the fifth-year man out of Iowa, is the fifth-leading scorer in the league even though he doesn't start (Herm Gilliam opens with Watts).
"Fred has the potential to be one of the alltime great guards because he can do so many things," declares Coach Bill Russell.
Seattle also gets fine, spirited performances from Center Tom Burleson, who couldn't stop Abdul-Jabbar but did score 20 points and collect 12 rebounds.
At the end of the game Sharman said he was tired of hearing about L.A.'s poor road record. "Who is winning on the road?" he said. "The league has great balance this year. A few years ago, when you had new expansion teams, you could count on beating them 90% of the time. That's no longer true. Everybody except Golden State and Boston is losing on the road."
His point was upheld Friday night at the Forum when the Lakers looked pretty good in reversing the away decision against Seattle, 113-105. Goodrich, who had scored a season-low two points up north, tied his season high of 37 (no doubt pleasing courtsider Nicholson, resplendent in white pants but without his Academy Award sunglasses). Lucius Allen, in disfavor, came off the bench to score 21 points, Connie Warner had 16 rebounds and the placid-appearing Abdul-Jabbar had a typically placid 23 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Lakers were still breathing ("This one was the vital one," said Sharman) and continued to hang on Saturday night when Phoenix lost at Portland and Seattle got smashed at Golden State.
And then on Sunday, while the Lakers kept alive by beating Golden State 118-111, Seattle and Phoenix went head to head and the whole wild scramble got a notch tighter. On their home court the Sonics flew past the Suns 117-89 and into second. And there was more clawing to come in the final days.
"Like I tell my guys," said Russell with a chuckle, "nobody gets out of this alive."