|Pretenders to the throne|
By Charley Rosen
Page 2 columnist
The basketball played in the Dallas-Sacramento series is to normal blood-and-guts NBA playoff action as arena football is to the NFL. Every game showcases hair-trigger shooters, disinterested defenders and scoreboards flashing like pinball machines.
As such, for both the Kings and the Mavericks, the unofficial principles of oncourt conduct are as follows:
Whoever inbounds the ball never gets to touch it again. Whoever crosses the time-line with the ball is allowed to launch any kind of shot he wishes. Never put your body in front of a cutter. During a fast break, don't bother to offer anything but token defensive resistance to the ballcarrier. Play as though the shot clock detonates after 10 seconds. Don't touch any player who dribbles 15 times as he maneuvers his way from beyond the arc to the basket. Whichever team converts the most 3-point shots wins.
Sure, the series is exciting and entertaining. The fans love it, and the announcers get to scream in constant amazement. But it's hokey, harum-scarum, counterfeit basketball.
Okay, the Mavericks did play some defense in Game 5, which was a lot better than what both teams had been playing up till then -- none. But don't be so quick to totally credit the Mavs' little "d" for the Kings' second-half collapse. Dallas' impressive total of 11 blocked shots and eight steals indicate that the Mavs were, indeed, moving their feet and their bodies (which are the basic constituents of real defense). Yet there's much more to the Kings' meager offense in the third quarter. Those 10 points on a measly 12 percent from the field? The truth is that the Kings had innumerable good looks, but simply bricked an embarrassing number of shots.
A revealing factor here is that most of their misses spronged off the front rim. In the secret world of shooters, a back-rim miss, a bouncer or a round-the-world-and-out are considered to be "good" misses, because the shot-release is still free and easy. But a front-rim miss indicates that the shooter's hand mechanics are tight.
The unmistakable indication is that the Kings lost heart in a hurry. (Or as Doug Christie said, "We got rattled.") Their palpitations were so noticeable in the fourth quarter that the Kings routinely over-passed, so reluctant were they to shoot (and miss).
What's going on here?
Dallas is as Dallas does. Their basic game plan is to simply outshoot and thereby outscore their opponents. That's why the Mavs want to turn the court into a freeway.
And the Kings are mere pretenders to the throne.
In the absence of Webber, the only big man who can score with his back to the basket and also accurately pass the ball is Vlade Divac. Too bad the unanimous view around the league is that Divac is about as courageous as the Tin Man.
("There are no clutch players on the Kings," opines a veteran NBA coach. "Mike Bibby comes the closest, but he only thinks he's clutch.")
The Mavericks were wise to attack the Kings' middle-men right out of the chute. As soon as Divac found himself in early foul trouble, he was replaced by Keon Clark, celebrated for being quick, long, left-handed, undependable and not overly talented. The same "take-it-right-at-him" tactic soon saddled Clark with early foul trouble, and his replacement was the interchangeably bearded/goateed/braided/Mohawked/crewcut Scot "Mister Potato Head" Pollard. The latter is an authentic hustler, rebounder and banger, but is insufficiently talented to help facilitate the Kings' offense.
What usually happens when a star player is injured is that somebody else rises to the occasion. Instead, the Kings laid down.
In sum, the Kings don't really need Chris Webber. They need the Wizard of Oz.
Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."