Once trendy pretenders, Kings look serious now

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

January 28, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Few things in life are harder to shake than a reputation, and since the Sacramento Kings have carried the rep of a showboating team for whom the 24 seconds spent on defense were just a brief layover before taking another shot, it's been a little difficult for many to take seriously their run near the top of the Western Conference this season.

But with half a season in the books, the Kings are giving every impression that they intend to change the way they're viewed, not to mention foul up the conventional wisdom that Portland, the Lakers or San Antonio will rule the West.

"They're the best team we've played all year," said New Jersey coach Byron Scott after the Kings blistered the Nets, 130-104, Tuesday night. "They shoot the ball better than any team I've seen in this league. There's no method to their madness. They play like they're playing on the playgrounds: Everybody cuts and moves. It's fun. If they keep playing the way they're playing and they keep home-court advantage, they'll be tough to beat in the playoffs."

The Kings posted a league season high in points that night, shooting 64 percent in the first period and scoring 69 points by halftime. In the process, Sacramento continued to serve notice that it expects to be a factor late into the spring.

"Every once in a while you get in a rhythm, and everybody else is in the same rhythm. That's sweet. When we're all throwing it in at the same time, we're tough to beat, especially in our building," said Kings forward Chris Webber, who had 25 points - 12 in the first period - 10 assists and nine rebounds in the New Jersey win.

The formula for Sacramento's success isn't a hard one to decipher. Coach Rick Adelman's club is getting increased scoring from second year forward Predrag Stojakovic, whose 19.8 scoring average is up nearly eight points from last season, and point guard Jason Williams, whose flashy but out-of-control play hurt the Kings at times last season, has sliced his turnover average from 3.7 a game in 1999-2000 to 2.2 this season.

Most importantly, the Kings, who have the best home record in the league, even with Thursday's loss to the Spurs, are playing drastically better defense than they did last season.

Sacramento, which is second to the Lakers in points per game, is giving up nine fewer points a game this season than last, and has jumped from the 27th-best defense to 11th. Not coincidentally, the Kings, who won 44 games last season, are on pace to win 57 this season.

At the heart of it all is Webber, 27, a former Washington Wizard, who ranks in the top seven in the league in four categories (points, rebounds, blocks and double doubles) and along with Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, is a leading candidate for Most Valuable Player honors.

Webber's performance comes in the last year of a contract, and couldn't come at a better time. New York, team of his former teammate and close friend Latrell Sprewell, and Detroit, his hometown team, are said to have the biggest interest in Webber, but Sacramento owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have put on the full-court press to re-sign the 6-foot-9 forward, renting a billboard on Webber's drive to ARCO Arena.

Webber is being coy about his future, offering that he wants to go where he has the best chance to win a title.

"I feel the way we're playing now, I feel we can do anything. I feel we can be successful and play well, and you really don't know what the future holds, as far as I can go to a team thinking I'm going to win a championship and it may very well not happen," said Webber recently. "I feel that if we put our minds to it, the championship is wide-open and this is where I can win one."

Quiz

With Tuesday's win at Dallas, the Philadelphia 76ers broke a 20-year old franchise record for road wins, with their 11th straight. The Sixers added to the mark Wednesday and can win their 13th today at Indiana.

What team holds the record for most road wins? (Hint: The club went on to set a bigger record that spans all of American professional team sports.)

Dunk you very much

The participants for the three-point shooting competition at All-Star Weekend in Washington in two weeks have been announced, and while the slam-dunk contestants have not been selected, we already know the field will be lame.

How do we know that? Because two of the league's most exciting young dunkers, defending champ Vince Carter of Toronto and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, have taken themselves out of the running. And rumor has it that former Maryland star Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets won't come back to his hometown to jam.

Who can blame them? The event has become so watered-down as to be irrelevant. Carter's through-the-legs dunk in Oakland was dazzling, to be sure, but most of the recent competitions have been snooze-fests because the big names take a pass.

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