The Washington Bullets and Seattle SuperSonics will meet tonight for the first time since their dramatic championship round playoff series last spring.
The game (11 p.m. EDT, WDCA-TV-20) will be played in the massive Kingdome, where the Sonics are playing all their home games this year.
Last season, Seattle used the dome facility just once, in the fourth game of the final round. The Bullets won that contest in overtime to even the series at two games apiece and begin a drive to the NBA title.
The Sonics have undergone one major change. Center Marvin Webster, who played so well in Seattle's victories during the series, is now with New York after becoming a free agent.
Taking his place in the starting lineup is Tom LaGarde, who came to Seattle in the offseason from Denver. LaGarde, a former North Carolina standout, had a poor rookie year with Denver but is off to a fine start this season. "We already have embraced Tommy and so have our fans," said Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens. "He is going to surprise some people this season."
If LaGarde stumbles in his duel with Washington's Wes Unseld, he'll be replaced by either Lonnie Shelton or Jack Sikma. Shelton, a 6-foot-8, 240 pound strongman, came to Seattle from New York as compensation in part for Webster.
Except for veteran guard Dick Snyder, who was signed as a free agent, the undefeated Sonics (5-0) have the same cast as last season.
Their deep back court line features the fast maturing Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams, with deadeye Fred Brown in reserve. John Johnson, who gave Bob Dandridge so much early trouble in the final series, and Sikma, one of the league's most surprising rookies last season, are the forwards.
Wilkens has played his entire 11-man roster every game, using depth to compensate for the loss of Webster's rebounding and defense. The major question marks about Seattle remains their board strength and lack of a top-notch small forward. LaGarde must show he can handle the center duties over the length of a season.