A week ago, Nate McMillan checked his voice mail for the first time since the NBA season began. "You have 48 messages." Well-wishers, all of them. Voices familiar and barely recognizable...

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A week ago, Nate McMillan checked his voice mail for the first time since the NBA season began.

“You have 48 messages.”

Well-wishers, all of them. Voices familiar and barely recognizable telephoned the Sonics’ coach to congratulate him on his team’s amazing ascension to the top of the NBA standings.

His brother, Randy, and family members called from North Carolina. His bosses, majority owner Howard Schultz and CEO Wally Walker, offered a few kind words. His former coaches, K.C. Jones and Bernie Bickerstaff, and former teammates buzzed his line.

McMillan doesn’t do compliments. He’ll say he welcomes praise. But, deep down, he’s uncomfortable with the adulation that accompanies commanding a team with an NBA-best 13-2 record.

It seems as if he lives for angst and anguish. He is the consummate perfectionist, constantly nitpicking and correcting the tiniest flaw.

In a quiet moment yesterday, he admitted he won’t truly enjoy his team’s sweet November — when it posted the second-best 15-game record in franchise history — until after the season.


Seattle @ Portland, 7 p.m., FSN

“You enjoy a win right after that win,” he said. “I do. … But when I walk out of my office, it’s (the) next day.”

The next day for McMillan is today’s trip to Portland, where the Sonics have lost the past four games at the Rose Garden.

At 7-6, the Trail Blazers have struggled to find the cohesiveness that has been the key to many of Seattle’s victories.

Portland players are bickering about playing time, and coach Maurice Cheeks, who like McMillan is in the final year of his contract, appears to be at odds with the front office.

“The one thing about Mo is he’s had a lot of talent,” McMillan said. “Sometimes when you have too much talent, you don’t get everything you want from the guys.

“I’ll be facing that in a few weeks when we have two guys who were in the rotation coming back — and how do you incorporate that? I haven’t figured that out yet, and I’d suspect he’s going through that on a daily basis.”

Weeks ago, Portland forward Ruben Patterson insinuated that Cheeks was being directed by general manager John Nash on how to distribute playing time.

When asked if that were true, Cheeks told the Oregonian: “I can’t answer that.”

The Sonics-Blazers rivalry has never truly blossomed in recent years in large part because of the mutual admiration between the coaches.

They don’t spit venom at each other like George Karl and Rick Adelman did when they were leading their teams to 50-win seasons while battling for Northwest supremacy.

“There’s a lot of similarities with me and Mo,” McMillan said. “We were both point guards, and we had a coach that you might say we learned from. For him, it was (Larry) Brown, and for me coach Karl. We came in at about the same time, and, on days when we’re not playing them, I hope he does well.”

Antonio Daniels, who played a year in Portland before joining the Sonics last season, would prefer not to get in the middle of any debate between McMillan and Cheeks, but the point guard offered this assessment: “They are completely two different people. Mo is more hands off, and Nate is a lot more hands on. And the intensity in the way that they are trying to get it across, it comes across in two completely different ways. … I like Mo a lot, but I like the intensity of Nate. He’s been able to get across to us what he wants to do.”

Yesterday’s practice gave McMillan a rare chance to sit and admire his handiwork, and he was asked to compare this squad with the 1993-94 team he helped to 14-1 and 20-2 starts.

“We knew we had a good team,” McMillan said. “This team is different than that team. We had years before that (including winning 55 games and advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 1992-93), so we knew.”

McMillan’s current players aren’t so sure about themselves. At least not yet.

“I don’t think we know, but I think we’re finding out that we have to play a certain way to have a chance to win, and if we don’t, it will be tough,” he said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Ever the perfectionist, McMillan is still not pleased.


Ronald Murray, who has missed 14 games because of strained left quadriceps, hopes to return on Dec. 8 when the Sonics travel to San Antonio. He’s slowly working himself back into shape. Yesterday, he participated in a 3-on-3 scrimmage after a 90-minute non-contact practice.

• Forward Vladimir Radmanovic will rejoin the cast of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker on Friday and reprise his role as the grandfather in the party scene. He’ll also work the fly rail with PNB stage hands to make the snow fall for the snow scene.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Cheek to Cheeks
Sonics coach Nate McMillan and Portland’s Maurice Cheeks each began their first full seasons as NBA coaches in 2001. The Trail Blazers’ coach has compiled a better record and has a 9-3 mark in head-to-head matchups. Here’s a look at how they have fared each season.
McMillan Season Cheeks
13-2 2004-05 7-6
37-45 2003-04 41-41
40-42 2002-03 50-32
45-37 2001-02 49-33
135-126 Total 147-112
Note: McMillan spent part of the 2000-01 season as an interim coach and posted a 38-29 record.

Super starts
Here’s a look at the Sonics’ best records after 15 games and how those teams finished the season.
Season Start W-L How they fared
1993-94 14-1 63-19 Lost in first round
2004-05 13-2 ???? ????
1982-83 13-2 48-34 Lost in first round
1978-79 12-3 52-30 Won NBA title
1997-98 12-3 61-21 Lost in conf. semis
1996-97 12-3 57-25 Lost in conf. semis
1999-00 11-4 45-37 Lost in first round
1992-93 11-4 55-27 Lost in conf. finals
1994-95 10-5 57-25 Lost in first round
1971-72 10-5 47-35 No playoffs