ATLANTA -- I asked Sacramento Kings coach Eric Musselman before his team took the court whether this was a must-win game, and he gave the usual answer about taking them one at a time. So I'll answer it for him -- this was a must win.
Kings deposed once again
• With the Kings already reeling and trailing Golden State (among others) by two games for the West's final playoff spot, they needed this one in any event. But it was doubly important because of their upcoming schedule. Sacramento plays two of its next four games against the Suns; after that comes a five-game stretch at the start of April that goes Lakers-Mavs-Nuggets-Jazz-Rockets. The Hawks were the worst team Sacramento will play the rest of the season, so getting blown out of the building by them, 99-76, wasn't a real good omen.
• If the Kings miss the playoffs, they can blame it on their dilapidated frontcourt. It was sad watching Shareef Abdur-Rahim -- an All-Star in this building five years ago -- struggle to score on his post moves. Same goes for aging center Brad Miller, who checked out after 12 desultory minutes due to plantar fasciitis.
• Sacramento's most effective big man was veteran retread Corliss Williamson, and that's not the first time that's been the case. The Hawks took advantage by repeatedly scoring in the paint, with center Zaza Pachulia leading the way -- he had 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the first quarter. Sacramento's starting frontcourt combined to shoot 2-for-9 with five points and four rebounds. Ouch.
• With Miller presumably out for a while and Kenny Thomas already on the shelf, look for lots of small-ball from Sacramento down the stretch. Musselman sounded reluctant to use it heavily in his pregame comments, but at this point he might have no choice. It's certainly better than playing his regular lineup and watching his team get its brains blown out.
• Side note on Sacramento's frontcourt: I completely forgot Vitaly Potapenko was still in the league until he took off his warm-ups in garbage time. I can't be the only one. Side note No. 2: The league's only postgame conversation of the season in Ukrainian took place in a Philips Arena hallway after the game between Potapenko and the Hawks' Slava Medvedenko. I thought you should know these things.
• Atlanta's Josh Smith would have had his first career triple-double if he'd made one of two foul shots in the fourth quarter. Instead he missed both, leaving him a point short of the milestone. Hawks coach Mike Woodson left him in for several minutes of the fourth quarter -- by this point, the other nine players on the court were scrubs -- before finally hooking him with just 3:41 left.
• So the big question after all this is what's Musselman's job status? It hardly seems to matter by this point with just 15 games left, but the Kings' recent slump and tonight's no-show, along with comments by Kings owner Joe Maloof a few weeks ago that were something south of fully supportive, make you wonder.
• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang
AP Photo/Gregory Smith
Kings guard Ron Artest, left, sits on the bench along with guard Kevin Martin as they watch their team fall to the Hawks, 99-76.
Phewwwwww" . . . that was the relieved reaction from a number of different executives after Ohio State avoided a huge second-round upset to Xavier. The thinking was that an Ohio State loss could have caused center Greg Oden to consider staying in school. Oden has been back and forth on the topic all year, but an early-round loss combined with a lackluster effort from Oden could have convinced him that he's not ready for the pros.
There will be more hand-wringing in the coming rounds as more and more executives worry that Oden might be feeling that he's not ready for the NBA. In other words, they want him and Ohio State to finish strong so that his confidence is sky high when determining his NBA future.
And what did they say about his play? Oden was solid all of the time and dominant sometimes, but he seemed to lack a real drive in that first half against Xavier.
That's nothing you haven't heard before. Scouts are going to worry about his nightly effort, but everything else they're seeing still has them pointing to Oden as the No. 1 pick.
Kobe Bryant's last two games have raised his scoring average to 30 points per game for the first time this season. At 62 games into the season, this is the furthest into a season that any player in NBA history has ever gone before first reaching an average of 30 points per game. The previous high was 49 games by Allen Iverson in 2000-01 and Oscar Robertson in 1963-64.
Shades of Wilt? Late in the 1961-62 season, Wilt Chamberlain needed to score at least 430 points over his final eight games to average 50 points per game for the season. Chamberlain ran off a string of games in which he scored 67, 65, 61 and 100 points, and then coasted to his 50.4 points-per-game season by averaging only 41.5 per game over his final four games of the season!
Hawks win fifth straight home game
AP Photo/Brody Schmidt
Hornets center Tyson Chandler celebrates in the second half of an 106-88 win over the Celtics. Chandler scored 16 points and had 11 rebounds.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Miller (Philadelphia): I realize that stats determine the MVP, but without Chauncey Billups the Pistons don't win. Isn't that the true test of an MVP and should Billups be considered? The way they played Sunday proved Detroit lives and dies by Chauncey's game.
John Hollinger: I actually think that's a terribly misused way of awarding MVP -- the "without him they're nothing" argument. Basically, take the best player off just about any NBA team, and its winning percentage will go in the tank. Look at the Bucks without Redd, or the Celtics without Pierce, or countless other examples. Additionally, you chose an odd example to prove your point. Without Billups, the Pistons spanked Phoenix on the road (expanding their lead after he left) and then narrowly lost at Dallas. Does that sound like they collapsed in his absence?
Chad Ford and David Thorpe take a close look at the NCAA Tournament. Will "poor" performances in the tournament push Greg Oden and Kevin Durant back to school?
Yeah, the Mavs lost to the Suns in a game that went to 2 OTs (in other words, it could have easily gone the other way). Since then, two wins for Dallas, two losses for the Suns. So even with that tough loss, Dallas GAINED a game.
That shows a lot about the focus of the Mavs to get back on track, and shows that the Suns have trouble recoving from those emotional games, which will be every game in the playoffs. Besides, that was only the Suns' second win this year against the Mavs, Spurs and Jazz. It was one game out of 82.