against the sonics at MSG!!
He chomped on his gum and shook his head in the locker room. Gary Payton still doesn't understand it.
"Can't shake this thing," the Sonics star said after last night's 97-80 drubbing by the Knicks.

"It's like when we get in here, we're zombies."

Here, in this case, was Madison Square Garden, a place where the Sonics haven't won in six years. They're 0-5 since 1996, and last night Payton was one of the chief zombies.

While Payton finished with a team-high 20 points, he shot only 8 for 19, and that followed a dismal 3-for-9 first half. Fact is, the All-World point guard had one of his worst halves of the season in the opening 24 minutes, when Seattle was a stunning minus-13 with him and he failed to record a single assist.

How amazing is that? Payton leads the league in helpers with 10 per game.

Of course, part of the problem was Payton's ice-cold teammates, though he wouldn't blame them.

"That's just something that just happened," he said of the first-half assist doughnut. "I'm still going to kick it to them every game."

Maybe Payton should have known what he was headed for on the Sonics' first possession when he clanked a wide-open two-footer. Not the best start for which a guy could hope.

It would get worse, partly because Payton, a First Team All-Defense pick for the last nine years, was also battered on that end as Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward - hardly a Jason Kidd-Steve Francis combination here - poured in a combined 24 points. What gives, Glove?

"Awww, we didn't expect [24 points] out of Kurt Thomas either," Payton said, grinning. "So everybody played well for them tonight."

"That's not fair," Ward said when asked about outplaying Payton. "He was roaming. It's not a personal thing."

And to be fair, Payton is in the midst of another brilliant season, one that's seen him averaging 22 points while shooting 49 percent, a sparkling number for a perimeter player.

After this year the 34-year-old will be a free agent and, much like Ken Griffey Jr. - who attended last night's game and hugged Payton before each half - don't be surprised if the longtime Seattle star heads elsewhere.

Payton refused to talk about his plans, but his backup, former Molloy star Kenny Anderson, divulged his wishes for when he, too, becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

"Honestly, the way I would like to do it, is probably finish it out in Atlanta," said Anderson, who most figured would return home. "I moved everybody [in my family] to Atlanta."

Maybe Payton will join him. It's far enough away from the Garden to be safe.

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