Friday, May 3
Updated: May 3, 1:26 PM ET
Soon, nothing will rival Mavericks-Kings
By Scott Howard-Cooper
Special to ESPN.com
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Really good news for the NBA: The Mavericks and Kings might play each other for seven games in a row.
Really good news for the NBA: The Mavericks and Kings might play each other for seven games in a row.
This Western Conference semifinal is great for the league and even better for the teams. There will be definite challenges -- the Mavericks trying to maintain their momentum after a long break since beating Minnesota on Sunday, the Kings trying to regain their offensive rhythm after being pushed by Utah in the first round because they could not control the line of scrimmage -- but most of all there will be the potential of something special in the bigger picture.
A great rivalry.
Dallas and Sacramento are so much alike that it's a natural. Both love to put pedal to the metal on offense, and the NBA loves the entertainment value. Both are franchises on the come, from the depths in just three or four years and with no signs of returning anytime soon either. Both rely heavily on international markets (Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, Vlade Divac, Eduardo Najera, Hedo Tukoglu, for starters) and aren't doing so bad on the national scene either (Chris Webber and Michael Finley). Both have veteran coaches -- Don Nelson and Rick Adelman even used to work in Golden State -- and young-gun owners who are lustily embraced in their cities.
And now they both have each other for an entire playoff series, and that's a big deal. Now, they have the potential for something real.
The regular seasons have been great, competitive annually for the last four years and with almost every game high on entertainment value. But the true rivalries are forged in the playoffs. Bulls-Pistons would have been very interesting in winter and early spring as Michael Jordan tried to break the glass ceiling, but the passion of the postseason is what made it a blood sport. Lakers-Kings is the best thing going now in part because Phil Jackson, Rick Fox, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant rile Sacramento, but meeting two years in a row in the playoffs is what pushed it to the real heights.
"It takes years of playing for something that counts," said Mavericks assistant Rolando Blackman, who spent 13 years as an NBA guard and had been though some of wars of his own. "That's what creates a rivalry."
Not the regular seasons. Those can count for something, especially the way these teams love to play 94 feet with track shoes, but the postseason counts for everything.
The emotions get stoked, the pot in the middle of the table grows, there is the possibility of staring at each other for seven games in a row and it's for history. Forever has a way of changing things.
Welcome to the start of their forever.
"We didn't want the Kings," Nelson said. "Whoever was there, fine. If we wanted anybody, Utah has a harder time with us because they can't score and we can. But as far as a great series, this is the one everybody kind of hoped would happen."
There is one problem. These are good people. Damn.
There hasn't been word one yet about things getting cutthroat. If anything, it's the opposite. The real concern in the days leading up to the opener was how many guys would pull a hamstring as they ran to annoint the other team the favorite, the Mavericks saying it has to be the Kings because Sacramento finished with the best record during the regular season and has an inside game, and the Kings saying it has to be the Mavericks because Dallas won three of four in the season series and was so much more impressive in the first round. Can't they all just not get along?
Nowitzki, nothing short of amazing against the Timberwolves, and Stojakovic are good friends. Mark Cuban heaps praise on his Sacramento counterparts, Joe and Gavin Maloof. Hard takedowns have been missing.
"I thought the last two years had been that kind of rivalry," Nelson said of the potential of something big brewing. "But both teams are clean teams, so there's nothing to hang your hat on as far as dirty play. They don't want to go there and neither do we."
They're all going for a best-of-seven for now. Saturday is the start, of the series and of something big.
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One telling development is that their long-standing understanding that Pick and Roll would go out together is no more. Now, neither wants the other to stick around out of an obligation but, instead, to make the decision that is best for each person. In Malone's case, that could mean giving the green light for Jazz management, which had previously said neither cornerstone would be dealt unless they asked for it, to pursue a trade. He is coming off his most frustrating year, in large part because of what Malone and coach Jerry Sloan viewed as a selfish team filled with too many stats-first players, and wants to win a championship badly enough that he may push for it now. Some in the front office suggest that is the heat-of-the-moment emotions talking.
Contrary to what he told the media immediately after the Jazz was eliminated by the Kings, Malone has a pretty clear idea of what he wants to do. His agent Dwight Manley will meet with management to address the future and won't come out and say he is looking forward to 2002-03 in Utah. He already has a contract for next season, so wanting to talk things through with the bosses is telling on its own, without any attempts to portray it as the usual state-of-the-team conversations.
Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.