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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000

Sonics back off Payton suspension

SAN ANTONIO -- Hours after suspending All-Star guard Gary Payton one game for arguing with coach Paul Westphal, the Seattle SuperSonics lifted the sanction, saying Payton had apologized.

Payton was to play in Wednesday night's game at the Spurs.

"I made the call," Westphal said before tipoff. "The reason for the suspension was to make things better."

The two met for an hour and a half, and "things got better," Westphal said. "There's no reason for the suspension anymore.

"The easiest thing in the world would be for me to act like a tough guy and flex my muscles. But the fact is, things got worked out, and I feel great."

Payton declined to be interviewed before the game.

Earlier in the day, team president Wally Walker issued a statement saying the suspension was "for conduct detrimental to the team."

"While this was an act that was not taken lightly, we believe that both Gary and the team will move forward positively upon Gary's return," Walker said.

Payton had to be restrained after confronting Westphal during a timeout in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's victory in Dallas.

The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., reported Wednesday that Payton told Westphal in the huddle that he didn't care "about this game anymore. You all can suspend me for the rest of my career."

Westphal, who offered to resign four games into the season, refused to go into detail about Payton's blowup.

Payton had 28 points on 10-of-25 shooting and nine assists against the Mavericks as the Sonics improved to 5-7.

The confrontation came with 8:31 left after Westphal said something that set Payton off. Teammate Pervis Ellison and others held Payton back. After the game, Payton told the News Tribune that Westphal showed him a lack of respect by what was said. If Westphal does it again, Payton said, he no longer would play for him.

Payton would not disclose to the newspaper what Westphal said to him, but he said, "He is going to respect me or I am not going to play for him. That's just (it), period. If he is going to say something bad to me, and I think it is bad, he is going to have to respect me before that. Or he won't have me playing for him."

CAVALIERS: Cleveland placed 10-year guard Bimbo Coles on the injured list with an inflamed knee. CELTICS: Coach Rick Pitino promised to finish the season but said "there won't be a next year for me" unless the team starts playing better defense. Pitino has said since late last season, his third consecutive losing season, that 2000-01 would be his last season in Boston if he doesn't see improved results. But after Monday's 24-point loss to Philadelphia dropped the Celtics to 4-6, he turned that into an ultimatum for a team he thinks will play harder to keep him around.

JAZZ: The league suspended forward Karl Malone one game and fined him $7,500 for hitting Dallas' Christian Laettner in the face during Utah's 107-98 win Monday in Dallas. The suspension will cost Malone about $156,000.

HAWKS 78, KNICKS 74: Jim Jackson scored 19 points as Atlanta built a big lead then held on for its second victory. The host Hawks led by 20 with 91/2 minutes remaining but didn't seal the victory until Alan Henderson's three-point play with 9.9 seconds to go.

SUNS 97, NETS 85: Tony Delk scored twice down the stretch to keep Phoenix from wasting a big lead. New Jersey went into the game with a 3-0 road record, something it had done once before, in the 1980-81 season.

JAZZ 116, NUGGETS 78: Donyell Marshall scored a season-high 17 points to lead Utah, which shot 58 percent and won despite Karl Malone missing because of a suspension.

MAVERICKS: For the third time in eight days, the league fined owner Mark Cuban -- this time for $25,000 -- for verbally abusing and criticizing officials in Tuesday night's loss to Seattle. His others fines were for $5,000 and $15,000. Cuban confronted the officials outside their locker room, saying: "Am I mistaken or did No. 30 just hand them the game? Nice game, No. 30."

SPURS: San Antonio placed guard Jaren Jackson on the injured list with a sprained left ankle and activated forward Ira Newble.

76ERS: Retired high school teacher Jay W. Charles, who pleaded guilty to sending an e-mail threatening the 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son of Allen Iverson, was fined $5,000. Charley, 55, of Leola, Pa., also was sentenced to three years' federal probation and ordered to serve 100 hours of community service tutoring math. WARRIORS: Forward Danny Fortson will have surgery today to repair a stress fracture in his right foot and is out indefinitely.

Wednesday's games

CELTICS 96, ROCKETS 81: Paul Pierce scored 16 points and Boston heeded Pitino's call for tougher defense. Houston's 81 points were the fewest scored against Boston this season. The Rockets made 33 of 88 shots (37.5 percent) and were outrebounded 55-45 as their four-game winning streak ended. Cuttino Mobley led the Rockets with 17 points

Tuesday's late game

WARRIORS 89, BULLS 77: Chicago opened an early 14-point lead, before Larry Hughes scored 25 points as Golden State -- the NBA's worst defensive team -- held Chicago scoreless for nearly 81/2 minutes in the second half.

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