Rocky road in March steers Kings off course

ON THE NBA

March 21, 2004|By MILTON KENT

Things aren't exactly going the way the Sacramento Kings planned.

The working theory was that with Chris Webber missing most of the season rehabbing a right knee injury suffered in the Western Conference semifinals last spring, he would come back in the second half of the season, like the cavalry, and provide a finishing kick.

"Before the season started, I knew I was going to be injured and I had a talk with the team. I told them I expected us to still win 55 games and that we shouldn't have any excuses," Webber said before a recent visit to Washington. "That's what I expect of us, and I don't care what anybody thinks. We set the tone right there with our expectations first; then you try to follow through."

Most of that theory held, as the Kings went 43-15, with the best record in the league, and a seeming hammerlock on home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

And with Webber posting double doubles in his first two games back earlier this month, it seemed as if things would be full steam ahead. However, Sacramento has hit a significant bump in the road, losing four of seven games before Friday's victory over Indiana, which caught and passed the Kings for best record in the league. Meanwhile, Minnesota, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to creep up in the West.

The Kings' recent bumpy road is due in large part to being on the road. Since winning in Philadelphia on March 4, Webber's second game back, Sacramento has won just twice on the road, getting tripped up against the mild, mild East. The Kings have lost in Miami, New Jersey and, shockingly, in Washington last Wednesday, as well as in Portland. They've won in Orlando and Indiana.

"We've shown in the past that home-court advantage means a lot to us," said forward Peja Stojakovic. "But sometimes, when you look at teams, especially in the playoffs, some teams play better on the road than at home. There are no rules about that. I would like to have home-court advantage all the way, but you never know. If you're a good team, you'll have to win on the road, too."

In Wednesday's game, the Kings shot 56 percent but lost, 114-108, because the Wizards shot 49 percent and out-rebounded Sacramento 42-33, including by a whopping 18-7 on the offensive glass.

"We have to play at a higher level if we want to get to where we want to go," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said after the Washington game. "You're going to have struggles, and it's all about staying together and seeing if we can't get a win in the next game."

Of course, there's still time for the Kings to claim their throne, but 10 of their final 13 games will be against teams in playoff position.

"We believe in each other," Webber said. "We have guys who really want to win for each other, so it wasn't hard to have that focus. They wanted to prove that we could win and I could come back and make us better, and I wanted to prove that I could sit on the side and say that I play with a great team, and they can win. That's been our focus the whole year. Hopefully, we can follow it through."

Quiz

The Detroit Pistons' streak of holding teams under 70 points ended Thursday night at six games when the Nets scored 71. Still, the Pistons hold the league mark at nine for a full season. What was the previous mark, and who held it?

Olympic calls

It looks as if only half of the NBA's dynamic rookie duo is getting Olympic consideration.

ESPN.com reported last week that USA Basketball, the governing body for the U.S. international effort, contacted the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James about a possible vacancy on the squad that will compete in Athens this summer.

Denver Nuggets rookie Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) also was contacted four weeks ago, according to his agent, Calvin Andrews, who told the Rocky Mountain News that neither he nor Anthony had heard from USA Basketball since.

"Obviously, he would be honored [to be chosen]," Andrews said. "However, we would have to evaluate whether it's a good decision or not right now. That would kill his whole summer, and it would be a veteran-laden team, and we don't know if he would contribute the way he would want to contribute."

Andrews said Anthony will not play in the Nuggets' summer league team but will tour Europe or Asia on behalf of Nike, whose sneakers he endorses.

What's Iverson's beef?

Let's see: First, Wizards forward Jerry Stackhouse, a former scoring champion and consistent NBA starter, asks to come off the bench to have more of a kick in the fourth quarter, and his team takes the New York Knicks to overtime one night and beats the Kings the next.

Then, two-time Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan, after starting 506 consecutive games, agrees to come off the bench after missing nine of 10 games with a knee ailment and gets 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Minnesota Timberwolves in a vital Midwest Division clash.

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