LANDOVER -- When Eddie Johnson was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics three weeks ago, there may have been a natural tendency to expect a letdown.
The 10-year veteran was leaving a team with a chance to win it all (the Phoenix Suns) to join a team struggling for survival. But, if the transition was difficult, somebody forgot to tell Johnson.
"Basically, when I came in, I just told them I was happy to be here," Johnson said after scoring 22 points in the Sonics' 125-120 win over the Washington Bullets last night. "My role is to be consistent and add a spark. I am an offensive player and when I get into a game that's what I try to do -- add a spark.
"This is a role I've done for the last four years, so it's nothing new to me," said Johnson, who led seven Seattle scorers into double figures. "We're not going to have one guy consistently hitting big numbers -- but we've been putting five or six guys in double figures. That's why we've won six in a row."
When Johnson was traded, the Sonics had a 5-11 record. They've gone 7-2 since.
"There's not that much difference between a winner and a loser," said Johnson. "I've learned to realize that if you play your role and stay within yourself good things will happen.
"Earlier in the year I think that we'd have blown a game like this one," Johnson said.
Actually, after the early minutes the SuperSonics never appeared in danger of losing this game -- until the Bullets (10-17) scored nine points in the final 51 seconds.
"We had a lineup that could handle the ball in there at the end, and it worked pretty well until breaking down against the trap [defense]," said Sonics coach K.C. Jones. "It's difficult to run a set offense against a trap and eventually it broke down."
As road games go, the conditions were about as favorable as the Sonics could expect. A rush-hour snowfall made it easier for the visitors to get to the Capital Centre than the home team.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld didn't arrive until 45 minutes before game time after a 2 1/2 -hour trip from his home, about 40 miles away in Baltimore County. The crowd was reduced from an advance sale of 11,743 to 2,413 hardy spectators, and the Bullets were coming off a tough overtime loss to Philadelphia the night before.
But Unseld was no more inclined to use the conditions as an excuse than he was to be impressed by the Bullets' late run that made the game appear closer than it really was. "Don't read anything into that," Unseld said of his team's scrambling rally in the fourth quarter. "It would be nice to be able to read something into it, but I'm not going to do that.
"I'm not happy about anything that happened tonight. I wasn't happy getting here -- I would have been better off not getting here.
"You have to give them [the Sonics] some credit, they did some good things out there," said Unseld. "They've a very athletic team, very quick. But I just don't think we made them sit down and play basketball.
"In all honesty, I don't think we had it tonight, that's all. That's not an excuse, that's just an honest opinion. I thought we were never in this game, for the better parts of it anyway."
Veteran guard Darrell Walker agreed with his coach. "We just weren't ready to play, and I don't understand that," said Walker. "There's no excuse. That team [the Sonics] played last night in Cleveland and while we were in our beds sleeping they had to get up and travel."
With Johnson scoring 18 points in 12 minutes, the Sonics racehorsed their way to a 71-57 halftime lead and increased the margin to 21, 95-74, in the third quarter.
The loss was the second straight after five straight home-court wins for the Bullets. They resume play tomorrow night at the Capital Centre (7:30, HTS, WTOP-AM 1500) against the Denver Nuggets.