Editor's note: New season, new Stein Line. Now, Marc Stein's NBA report can be found every weekday during the playoffs.
They must be getting older in Sacramento, aging right before our eyes, and for once that's not a reference to the road team.
This is about the Kings, who could be seen late Monday making their own Lakers-style statement of intent, oozing maturity all over the NBA's longtime Kings O' Execution.
The hosts' 108-95 Game 2 cruise past Utah will be recorded as a historic victory, as it gave Sacramento its first 2-0 lead, in any series, since the Kings began a string of five straight playoff appearances in 1999. Yet that's not necessarily the big news. The notable achievement could just as easily be the Kings' final point total, which computes to 17 more points than they scored in any of the four playoff games they played against the Jazz last spring.
Put another way, it's another sign that those wild kids from Arco Arena are growing up. Not content with merely eliminating the Jazz, like last time, Sacramento finally managed to impose its preferred speed on the slowdown kings and had the game won by halftime. That's even after losing Chris Webber to a second-quarter back strain.
In April 2002, you'll recall, that didn't happen once. Sacramento advanced to the second round with a 3-1 series triumph but went 0-for-4 in terms of controlling tempo. On this night, building off a 58-point second half in Game 1, the Kings operated at their own pace throughout and made the Jazz look, well, old and weary.
Which is impressive because the Jazz has a better team than it did a year ago, with Matt Harpring slotting into the Jeff Hornacek role as a third threat alongside Karl Malone and John Stockton and with the dangerous Andrei Kirilenko coming off the bench. Ignoring all that, and the fact that they had topped 92 points only once in 10 previous playoff games against the Jazz, the Kings lost Webber and then played faster, sparked by their own sixth man, Bobby Jackson.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan could be heard complaining afterward about how his Jazz, famed for precision, didn't run the plays he was calling. All we could do, meanwhile, is remember what Webber told us a few days before the playoffs started.
"They're very methodical," Webb said. "It's almost boring to play them at times, because even if they're down six, eight, 10 (points), they have the discipline to keep running the same thing, to not panic. One person doesn't try to take over. They've been there before, and I think that's the best thing about them.
"The thing we learned from them, losing in that first-round series four years ago, is no matter what, just stay the course. I remember being up against them 14 or 15 and Malone was telling his guys, 'Just stay the course.'
"Teams have to worry about us now. Teams have to play our pace. We've shown we can play defense. We can play full-court, half-court, fast-court, slow-court, whatever. All we have to do is just do it now. Once we win (a championship), maybe those questions won't be asked as much."
It would be a more convincing statement of maturity if the Kings can plow through the rest of the series now and finish it in four or five games. With four full off-days coming next, in a bizarre bit of scheduling that should only help Webber's health, Sacramento just might be sufficiently seasoned to sweep the fortysomethings aside.
All of the above, of course, is predicated on the Kings' contention that Webber's injury doesn't appear serious. As for a sweep, that would also mean writing the Jazz off as fossils for the umpteenth time.
Do you dare?
Slams and Dunks
It can no longer be about stopping Stephon Marbury, because Marbury can't be stopped by a single Spur. Tony Parker, however, has to get his offense right immediately if San Antonio intends to reach the second round. More distressing than Parker's inability to contain Marbury -- since no one does one-on-one -- is the kid's 3-for-20 shooting so far. Speedy Claxton was much more effective running San Antonio's offense in Monday's Game 2 victory, and that realization (along with foul trouble) had Parker on the bench in the fourth quarter in the Spurs' biggest game of the season. Which ranks as the upset of the playoffs so far. With the problems only worsening, it really does seem like a mental issue for Parker against the Suns. He looks lost offensively, too, which marks the first time in Parker's storybook career so far that something or someone has fazed him. Not even Gary Payton could accomplish that, in last spring's playoffs.
Indiana coach Isiah Thomas enjoyed a satisfying evening at Conseco Fieldhouse ... after the home fans stopped booing during introductions and apart from another blown double-digit lead by the Pacers. Indy held on in Game 2 to even its series with Boston, as Ron Artest played hounding defense on Paul Pierce and Jermaine O'Neal, in addition to his 23 points and 20 boards, chipped in on the Pierce effort with some good help D in Isiah's standout adjustment to the Game 1 game plan. Thomas also resdiscovered Reggie Miller, who finished with 18 points after spending most of Saturday's fourth quarter on the bench.
The Hornets are hoping Baron Davis' bruised knee will allow him to play in Wednesday's Game 2 or miss only one game at the most. But if he's back Wednesday, don't expect to see him guarding Allen Iverson much. To ease the burden on Davis' joints, David Wesley and Stacey Augmon are expected to share primary Iverson duties, with the Hornets hoping Augmon's length can bother the little guy. Of course, Augmon was one of the defenders helpless against Iverson's 55 points Sunday night.
The Spurs can probably get by Phoenix, as much as they're struggling, without David Robinson. But they'd need Robinson -- badly -- if the expected second-round meeting with the Lakers materializes. The Spurs like to send Robinson at Shaquille O'Neal in the first half of games against L.A. to spare Duncan from early foul trouble. Danny Ferry had a nice fill-in effort in Game 2 against the Suns, with 10 rebounds and a huge 3-pointer in the fourth quarter with San Antonio down by seven, but Ferry obviously isn't an option against the champs.
Anyone else think that Marbury is doubly motivated by the idea that a first-round upset would convince the Spurs to go even harder after Jason Kidd ... which would ultimately punish the Nets? Marbury had 10 rebounds Monday; Parker has nine points in the series.