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Saturday, March 23
 
The final piece to Kings' championship puzzle

By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com

The Sacramento Kings are pulling out all the stops for success. They have gone to voodoo in an effort to finally -- once and for all, no doubt in my mind -- beat those big bad bullies from Hollywood and place the Larry O'Brien trophy on its rightful shelf in the middle of a cornfield in central California.

OK, so maybe Geoff Petrie or Rick Adelman did not know the supernaturalistic powers of signing Chucky Brown to a 10-day contract -- or maybe they did. Whatever the case, the fact that one of the deepest teams in the league has now signed Chucky Brown for the remainder of the season is a clear indication that the Kings' management sensed the healing powers of Brown, powers that would make Miss Cleo blush with both embarrassment and envy.

Chucky Brown
There's also a Chucky Brown Curse. Just ask the Hornets.
For the uninitiated, Brown, a marginally skilled player who has journeyed to 12 teams in his NBA career, has a rabid following which calls itself the Chucky Brown Fan Club, complete with a web site (www.chuckybrownfanclub.com), because it believes that Chucky Brown represents the game the way it is supposed to be played.

Within the fan club, there is a Chucky Brown Karma, and for those who bestow niceties on Brown -- like the Houston Rockets in 1994-95 -- they are aptly rewarded. Lest you forget, the Rockets won a title that year.

For those who shun the karma and treat Brown badly -- which usually means cutting him at some point -- they feel its wrath.

It's a double-edged sword, to be sure, because at some point everybody is going to have to cut Chucky Brown -- and they eventually will feel the karma turn against them. But for those teams who can harness the karma for a little stretch -- like the Kings -- the reward may be worth it.

I have seen the karma at work firsthand. A few years back, the Sonics brought Brown in and he played pretty well. I even told Paul Westphal about the fan club and the karma, and told him that the fan club had planned on bombarding the NBA's web site so vehemently that it was going to get Brown elected an all-star. To which Westphal replied, "You have to get on a team before you can become an All-Star."

Next thing you know, Westy is back home in Southern California, interviewing for the Pepperdine job. He thinks it is because of an unnamed $87 million power forward who once was an all-star and now can't step on the court without dislocating the synapses that goes to his brain. But the real reason very well may be the Chucky Brown Karma. (Westy, if you're reading this, I know you remember that conversation.)

There are other examples. Chris Ford was warned not to cut Chucky Brown in Milwaukee. Gonzo, probably never to be seen again.

The Hornets were warned not to cut Chucky Brown in Charlotte. Not only was Dave Cowens fired, the entire team has been fired by the city.

Remember in '94, when Charles Barkley made fun of Chucky Brown as a no-name power forward. The Chuckster (Barkley, not Brown) promptly went out and missed all 10 shots in the next game and the Suns went home. I hate to say that Westphal is a slow learner, but he should have known the power of Brown back then. He was coaching Phoenix.

Perhaps the best that could happen to the Kings is that Shaquille O'Neal could throw out some inane insult about Chucky Brown and the Big Arthritic will have one of his little piggies fall off.

I'm not saying that the Kings are desperate to win the Western Conference, but their fan base certainly is not ascribing to that whole one-game-at-a-time mantra. Even though Sacramento has had two more games this week before Sunday's showdown with L.A., all the talk in the valley has been about the Lakers, as if those other teams didn't matter.

Here is my guess: If the Kings could beat the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, then get swept by the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, they would not even care. Beating the Lakers would be good enough. The aftereffects are meaningless drivel.

To be fair, though, the Kings have been playing some of their basketball of late. Since signing Brown, Sacramento has gone from a very average or even below average road team to an above .500 road team, which is going to be crucial come the postseason.

Yes, naysayers will point out, a 4-1 road trip against the Eastern Conference helped boost that record, but how do you think everybody else is padding their road records?

"Everybody is just getting their swagger back," Chris Webber said. "That's what I call it. I think all of us need to get our swagger back. Get that little feel. I'm just looking for that little feel, all of us are looking for that little feel.

"The swagger is playing your game and not letting anybody tell you what your game is. (It's) going out there and doing it well. It's a feeling, that niche, that touch that you have a feel for the game. Almost where (things) become second nature because you have been working on it so long. I know it's hard to explain, but when it comes back we'll be OK."

It will be interesting to see what happens in Sunday's game against the Lakers, because there is a possibility that Peja Stojakovic will not play. He is feeling the effects of a strained hamstring, and the Kings don't want to risk losing him for an extended period as the stretch run hits its stride.

But this is the reason it will be interesting: I talked to one scout who believes the Kings are better with Stojakovic in and Webber out. The scout felt that when Webber is out and the offense runs through Vlade Divac, with Stojakovic as the primary offensive threat, the Kings become a much bettrer team.

When Webber plays, the scout says, the offense seems to get bogged down in his low-post moves or his persistent pump fakes on his jump shot from the perimeter.

No matter what he says, (Chris Webber) remains mentally soft in big games -- and I personally think it stems from the timeout he called in the national championship game at Michigan.

If Stojakovic does not play Sunday, it will give us an opportunity see exactly how well Webber can play when he must be called upon to carry this team as Stojakovic did earlier in the season, when Webber missed time with a sprained ankle.

Webber was miserable in the postseason last year, when the Lakers swept the Kings and Webber looked absolutely intimidated by O'Neal and the rest of the band of merry hackers that Phil Jackson threw at CWebb, who, no matter what he says, remains mentally soft in big games -- and I personally think it stems from the timeout he called in the national championship game at Michigan.

There is one other key for Sacramento: "I don't want to step on anybody's toes. It's just not my personality to come in here and be like that. That's not me."

That would be a quote from point guard Mike Bibby.

Let me give you a littlle tip, Mike: That's why they traded Jason Williams for you. It's almost 70 games into the season -- you should feel comfortable enough to take shots without "stepping on anybody's toes." Sack up, man, this is the NBA, and your team needs you to stop acting like a pansy.

Phew, glad I got that off my chest.

The bottom line is this: This is the best Kings' team probably in franchise history, and they are about to set a record for home victories, which previously was 33. They have talent, they have depth, they have the best place to play in the league, and they are gaining momentum. But they also have an inferiority complex.

Maybe Chucky Brown can help with that.

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.





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