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Tuesday, November 13, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sonics Face Knick Nemesis -- Mcdaniel's Challenge: Stop New York's Revitalized Kiki Vandeweghe

First, it was a knee. Then it was a calf muscle. Now, the knee feels fine, but it turns out the pain in the calf was related to a back ailment.

And around and around it goes.

Ice here, ice there. Xavier McDaniel could be a salmon in a fish market. The Seattle SuperSonic forward spends enough time packed in ice after games and practices.

None of it has cooled his hot hand, however. McDaniel's game has been feeling good this season, even if his body hasn't. He has scored at least 24 points in each of the four games, leads the Sonics with a 25.3-point scoring average, is hitting 52.6 percent from the floorTonight: Sonics vs. New York Knicks, and averaging 2.8 steals.

``That's a nice plus for us,'' Coach K.C. Jones said of McDaniel's play. ``It hasn't been easy for him.''

But it hasn't been that difficult, either.

``It doesn't bother me when I'm actually playing,'' McDaniel said of his back - the latest of his ailments. ``When I stop playing is when I feel it. It's kind of like a headache; it's not so uncomfortable that I can't play.

``Everybody else worries more about my injuries than I do,'' he added. ``The main thing is to just play.''

Tonight, an old McDaniel nemesis, Kiki Vandeweghe, comes to to Seattle with the New York Knicks (4-2). Vandeweghe has missed more games (142) than he has played (104) the past three seasons because of a recurring back injury.

Before he was traded by Portland to the Knicks in 1988-89, Vandeweghe had seven straight seasons in which he averaged at least 20 points and shot better than 50 percent from the field. The past two injury-plagued seasons, he's averaged 11.3 points.

The pain apparently behind him, Vandeweghe recently has flashed back to old form. In his past three games, all Knicks victories, he has averaged 21 points and shot 59 percent from the field.

The lack of a finishing kick was the worst of the Knicks' early woes. They were outscored 95-66 during the fourth quarters of their first three outings. Defense, plus a large dose of Vandeweghe, has changed that. He had 22 points - 10 in the final five minutes - in the Lakers victory.

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``He's feeling good,'' Jones said of the Knick forward, ``and that's bad news for me.''

Maybe even worse for McDaniel. When healthy and a Trail Blazer, Vandeweghe was a Sonic back-breaker. From 1985-86, McDaniel's rookie season, to 1988-89, Vandeweghe averaged 29.9 points on 56-percent shooting against Seattle.

``He was the most difficult player for me to stop,'' McDaniel said. ``If you play off him, he shoots the jumper. If you play on him, he drives around you. Most players do one or the other well, but he gives you all kinds of problems.

``The only thing I could do was attack him on offense. Thing was, he'd never foul me. When I got the ball down low, I usually got either a dunk or an easy layup.''

Vandeweghe, 32, is not blessed with the speed and athleticism of other small forwards. But, during his heyday, in addition to a dead-eye shot, he probably had the best offensive footwork in the game. The Kiki Move - jab step with the dribble, step back and shoot - is taught by many coaches, and is a staple at Pete Newell's renowned summertime Big Man's Camp.

``Who can really match up with him?'' Jones asked. ``You can put the greatest defensive player in the league on him, and he'll still get his points.''

But Vandeweghe doesn't have the same offensive license with the Knicks as he did with the Blazers. The New York attack revolves around center Patrick Ewing, averaging 29.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.7 blocks. Vandeweghe does give the Knicks a previously lacking dimension on the perimeter that helps lure defenses away from Ewing in the post.

``With their offense, Kiki is not going to be getting 25 shots a game,'' McDaniel said. ``Pat's going to be the focal point. Pat goes from one block to the other, and everybody else watches. It's like Gladys Knight and the Pips.''

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SONIC PREVIEW

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SEATTLE VS. NEW YORK

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-- WHEN, WHERE: Tonight, 7 o'clock, at Coliseum.

-- RADIO, TV: KJR radio (950 AM); no TV.

-- RECORDS: Sonics are 3-1 (second in Pacific Division), 2-1 at home; Knicks are 4-2 (second in Atlantic), 3-0 on road.

-- INJURY REPORT: Seattle's Dale Ellis (right foot) is out and Dave Corzine (knee) is on injured list for at least one more game; New York's Kenny Walker (knee) and John Starks (knee) are on injured list.

-- WHAT TO EXPECT: Knicks have outscored opponents by an average of 5.3 points in first quarter, so Sonics have to be ready. With Patrick Ewing (14.0 rebounds a game) and Charles Oakley (13.3), New York is strong on boards, where Seattle has taken a beating in its past two outings. Sonics have advantage in overall quickness, and their bench averages 40.0 points to New York's 21.3.

-- SHOWCASE MATCHUP: While Seattle's Xavier McDaniel and New York's Kiki Vandeweghe will renew their old rivalry at small forward, the most important matchup for Seattle will be Michael Cage and Olden Polynice against Patrick Ewing. Knick center's averages of 29.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.7 blocks outclasses Sonic tandem's combined 17.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per outing.

-- STRAIGHT TALK: Coach K.C. Jones, on his Sonics' loss to Golden State Saturday, the day after a high-octane victory in Denver: ``We had Nugget whiplash and were still recovering.''

- Glenn Nelson

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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