After the young Seattle SuperSonics won their first National Basketball Association title last year, almost everyone around Puget Sound was talking dynasty.
But Paul Silas, that wise, 36-year-old veteran forward, preferred to talk sense. Staying on top, he told his teammates, would be far more difficult than getting there.
At the moment, the Milwaukee Bucks are pounding home that prophetic message. They own a 3-2 advantage over Seattle in their Western Conference semifinal, and the Bucks can eliminate the Sonics with a victory Friday night in Milwaukee.
If a seventh game is necessary, it will be played Sunday in Seattle, the winner advancing to the final against Los Angeles.
"The problem with defending a championship is just that -- you go out and try to defend it," said Silas, a 16-year NBA veteran who played on two championship Celtic teams before becoming a Sonic.
"You can't do that. You've got to go after it like it's something you've never had, not something you want to keep from losing.
"Teams get caught up too much in proving that they are the champions and that's futile. We were champions last year and that doesn't mean a damn thing this year. Some of us don't understant that, though."
The Sonic starters averaged only 25 years of age when they were runners-up to the Washington Bullets two years ago. The same players started last season when they won the title, and this year they were the most experienced team in the league.
"We have the same personnel, but we aren't the same team," center Jack Sikma said. "We aren't doing the same things we did and I don't know why. We can get up for one big game, but we aren't consistent. We can't do it two games in a row.
"This series is almost like our (title) series with Washington last year," Sikma added. "They (the Bullets) were the champs and we were young and hungry, anxious to beat them. We wouldn't let anything deny us, and there wasn't much the Bullets could do about it. They just didn't have the same drive they did the year before.
"The same thing is happening to us, now," Sikma said. "The Bucks are young and hungry and going after it and we're the ones sitting back, trying to turn it on and off when we feel like it."
"We're definitely not as hungry as we were last year," guard Fred Brown said. "Last year we were building a mountain, and when you're working that hard you can't help but be hungry. This season has been different."
"The emotion that was there just isn't quite the same," Sikma said. "And now we're in a situation where we have to win. We usually respond to those situations, but how long can we keep doing it?"
"We have to relax, play our game and do the things that got us here," Coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We're letting Milwaukee dictate how the game is being played and that just isn't the way we do things." tAll of the games so far in this series have been close, except the last one. The teams split the first two games at the Seattle Coliseum, both going into overtime.
Seattle's top two scorers are guards Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams, with much of the offense designed for them. Seattle plays usually start with a pass to the forwards or centers, with one of the guards breaking off a pick to get free.
Milwaukee has been denying that first pass or forcing the receiver so far from the basket that the play can't be run properly. Seattle has become frustrated, often abandoning its plays and going one on one.
Seattle also has done a decent job on defense, but Milwaukee is more equipped to free lance when its regular offense is taken away.
Reserve Richard Washington scored 21 points Tuesday and Bob Lanier has been very steady in the middle for the Bucks. But rookie Sidney Moncrief is the man who has made the biggest difference.
The 6-foot-4 guard from Arkansas is one of the best leapers in the league and operates best close to the basket. In Milwaukee's overtime victory in Seattle, he scored all six of his team's points in the extra period, getting two field goals by posting up Dennis Johnson, perhaps the premier defensive guard in the NBA.
Moncrief also botches up Seattle's offense. When he is playing down low, Sonic guards can't release on the fast break very well. They're too preoccupied with defensing Moncrief down on the baseline.
Moncrief does not start, but usually replaces Quinn Buckner early in the game. He will be counted on even more heavily Friday night because of the uncertainty over Junior Bridgeman.
Bridgeman has spent the last two days in the hospital with a lower back bruise and strain after falling in the fifth game. He is expected to be released from the hospital Friday afternoon, but is listed as very doubtful.
Milwaukee's starting forward Dave Meyers has a hyperextended knee and played in only the first quarter of the last game. he is expected to start Friday. The Sonics are healthy except for backup center Rom LaGarde, who has a sore knee.
The Sonics were in a similar position last year in the conference finals against Phoenix. They trailed, 3-2, going into the sixth game in Phoenix.
They won the game, 106-105, returned home and won the decisive seventh game, 114-110.
"But that was last year," Silas said, "and we were hungry and wanted the championship. I just don't know how badly we want this one."