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Kings practice in secret after loss to Spurs

SAN ANTONIO -- The Sacramento Kings schemed in secret
Sunday.

Really. Coach Rick Adelman pulled a black curtain across the entrance to the AT&T Center floor before the Kings' lengthy practice, so only his players and staff were privy to any of
Sacramento's plan for avoiding another humiliating playoff loss to
the San Antonio Spurs.

But if that plan doesn't include a way to slow down speedy point guard Tony Parker's drives to the hoop in Game 1, or something to
limit the effectiveness of the Spurs' seasoned group of reserves,
the Kings might soon pull back that curtain to find nothing behind
it.

On Sunday, both teams got what they earned in San Antonio's
122-88 victory to open the best-of-seven series. The Spurs took the
day off, while the Kings spent nearly 4 hours watching videotape of
the disaster, followed by a workout that nearly stretched into the
early evening.

"I'm not saying we're going to win Tuesday, but we'd better be
better to the point that we can just compete," Adelman said. "We
want to try to make this a long series."

The Spurs' dominance was hardly surprising, given their
franchise-best 63-19 regular-season record and their top seed in
the Western Conference postseason. But the Kings' feeble responses
to San Antonio's usual strengths were head-scratching to those who
watched Sacramento's evolution into an above-average defensive team
over the last 36 games.

"It was still embarrassing to watch, but you've got to learn from it and make it the exact opposite the next time around," said
Mike Bibby, who scored 17 points but couldn't guard Parker. "A lot
of it is effort. We came out lackadaisical. You could tell by our
body movement. It was embarrassing, and nobody wants to be
embarrassed on national television."

The Kings lost most of the flair and hard-nosed passion they
developed while following the lead of Ron Artest, who went 7-for-21
after getting hit in the mouth by Manu Ginobili's elbow on the
game's opening possession.

The resulting cut inside his upper lip required three stitches, and it kept Artest quiet after the game and on Sunday, when he
declined to speak to the media.

But Artest can't solve the Kings' biggest defensive problem in
this series. Parker, the lightning-quick All-Star point guard, has
become too good to be defended by one player.

Parker scored 25 points in just three quarters of work Saturday, playing the type of all-around game that put him among the NBA's elite guards this season. Bibby always has trouble against the
league's fastest ball-handlers, but his teammates were little help
when Parker drove into the paint.

"I had never seen him so quick before," San Antonio's Robert Horry said Saturday. "He took off one time, and I was like,
'Gosh.' He's been carrying us for a long time down the stretch
here, but he was amazing."

The Kings have plenty of additional problems beyond Parker.
Their frontcourt struggled mightily, with center Brad Miller's
four-point, one-rebound performance in 26½ minutes the most glaring deficiency.

Adelman believes Sacramento's psyche will be tested in Game 2.
Though the coach's detractors point to his reactive coaching style
as a reason for his teams' sluggish adjustments, he has always been
an outstanding manager of his teams' divergent personalities.

He has two days to convince his players that the defending world
champions can be beaten when they're reasonably healthy and highly
motivated.

"We have to see what this team is going to do in this
situation, and I think they'll respond," Adelman said. "This is a
kind of test we've had earlier in the season. We get challenged
like that, and we have to have an answer."

Artest always has colorful opinions on the Kings' fortunes, but
he wasn't talking, perhaps because of the stitches that left his
upper lip visibly bumpy. His relentless work ethic slowed Ginobili
after the opening minutes, but he struggled along with his
teammates.

But before the Kings left for Texas, Artest declared their hopes
to win just one of the two road games before Game 3 in Sacramento
on Friday. That belief was echoed by Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who
dreamed of making the NBA playoffs for 10 years -- only to encounter
a nightmare in his postseason debut.

"If we [get a split], it's a successful trip," Abdur-Rahim
said with a shrug.