`Showtime' returns to Calif. in Sacramento

On The NBA

February 28, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

With no disrespect to Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, rookie point guard Jason "White Chocolate" Williams just might have the best handle in the NBA. Triple-double threat Chris Webber and Vlade Divac are probably the best passing front line in the league.

Let's face it: Showtime is in California, but it ain't in Los Angeles. It's in northern California, where the Sacramento Kings have emerged as the most exciting team in the NBA.

But will that excitement translate to success for a franchise that has failed to record a winning season since moving from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985?

The answer is no, not with a team where defense is a foreign word.

Watching the Kings play you get the impression the main focus is to get prominent exposure on "SportsCenter." Fancy passes are made, when simple ones would suffice. And getting away from fundamentals might be costing the Kings some winnable games.

"Their offense, whew, it's entertaining," said Philadelphia 76ers guard Harvey Grant, after his team beat the Kings on Wednesday. "But if you want to go out and win, you've got to play defense. I don't think they're on that page yet. The offense is unbelievable, but defense wins ball games."

Webber is averaging a double double, leads the league in rebounding and seems to benefit from shying away from the three-pointers he had become accustomed to taking in Washington. And while at times Williams comes through with some spectacular passes, he ranks third on the team in assists (behind Webber and Divac), demonstrating he has not taken on the mentality of a playmaker.

The fact that Williams, who was kicked off the Florida basketball team for twice testing positive for marijuana, is being embraced by journalists everywhere he travels is not lost on Iverson. When Iverson went through the league as a rookie, he found himself always having to defend himself for prior transgressions.

"I know what he's going through with all the hype, and I know he's been in trouble before," Iverson said. "But he's not going through it like I was going through it -- nowhere near like I was going through it."

Rambis and Rodman

So Kurt Rambis gets to take over the mess that is the Lakers, whose losses in succession to Seattle, Denver and Vancouver got coach Del Harris fired. The advice to Rambis, in his approach to coaching Dennis Rodman: Don't even try.

If Rodman fails to show up for practice, don't fret. If he skips shoot-around, or shows up late at the arena on game night, don't fine him. The best thing that Rambis can do is simply let Rodman play.

The coaches that have allowed Rodman leeway are the ones that have had the most success with the game's best rebounder.

The one time a coach tried to rein him in, Rodman's refusal to change created internal divisions on a San Antonio Spurs team that could have won an NBA title.

What the Lakers don't have -- and what will keep the team from a championship this season -- is a strong-minded superstar who could keep Rodman under wraps. The Chicago Bulls had that in Michael Jordan, who, while accepting some of Rodman's antics, spoke up anytime the side show appeared to get out of control.

O'Neal can't fit that role because he has no championship rings. Kobe Bryant is too young. The roles of veterans Derek Harper and Rick Fox are too limited for Rodman to respect.

So that leaves Rodman on a desperate team where he has complete freedom, in a town where anything goes. It should make for an entertaining ride.

Around the league

To motivate his team before a game against the Detroit Pistons last week, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley told the story of a coach dunking the head of one of his players in a bucket of ice water, lifting it out at the last moment and saying, "You will win when winning is as important as the next breath."

After the game, a Miami win, Riley asked if any of the players wanted to dunk his head in an ice bucket. When they all declined, Riley dunked himself -- for a long time.

"I was like, man, this dude [is] crazy," said Heat forward P. J. Brown. "I'm like, is he coming up or what?

"He finally came up, slobbering, and he's like, `Until your last breath. Until your last breath.' "

Seems the Bulls are turning the old locker stalls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen into some type of shrine. The team found both stalls boarded up last week, and a Bulls spokesman said, "They're going to do something special with them."

With wins over the Lakers and the Utah Jazz last week, the Denver Nuggets posted their third win in their 11th game. Last season Denver's third win came in its 41st game. Unfortunately, the Nuggets lost center Raef La- Frentz (torn ACL) for the season. LaFrentz had been one of the league's top rookies, averaging 14 points per game before his injury.

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