Sunday, May 05, 2002

Kings 108, Mavericks 91



By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

        SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vlade Divac knew he might be the slowest player on the court in this high-speed series, so he showed the Sacramento Kings how to walk almost as effectively as they run.

        Peja Stojakovic scored 26 points, and Divac had 18 points and 16 rebounds as the top-seeded Kings beat the Dallas Mavericks 108-91 Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series.

        In the first heat of what's looking like a best-of-seven track meet, the highly anticipated meeting of the NBA's two highest-scoring teams mostly lived up to its billing, with all the fluid ball movement and quick shots to be expected from the clubs riding the crest of the league's wave of the future.

        But the Kings got a convincing victory by taking the lead of Divac, their wily veteran center. He provided several important baskets with his laborious, dipsey-doodle inside game, and his defensive presence was a key to Dallas' struggles in its first playoff defeat of the season.

        “For me, it was tough running up and down the court at this speed,” Divac said. “It was high-energy play by both teams, but I think we played smart. We did more of what we wanted to do than they did.”

        It was a cold splash of reality for the Mavericks, who led the NBA in scoring and managed more than 112 points per game in their first-round sweep of Minnesota. Dallas often looked flat and disorganized while shooting less than 39 percent.

        Coach Don Nelson gave all the credit to the Kings, who injected a few defensive ideas into a determinedly offensive-minded series. Sacramento held the Mavs to just eight points on fast breaks while leading for all but a few possessions.

        “We didn't have anything we could bank on offensively,” Nelson said. “We just looked like we were in a huge hurry. We didn't get comfortable in our offensive sets, ever. We didn't really have anybody that played up to their potential — but it was just Game 1.”

        Sacramento played tough defense and capitalized on its low-post options of Chris Webber and Divac — options the Mavericks don't have and can't readily defend. The Kings scored nearly two-thirds of their points in the paint while outrebounding Dallas 53-43.

        “Vlade was the man,” Webber said. “He picked up the slack and got us into our game. He set it all up for us.”

        The Kings won the Pacific Division and finished with the NBA's best regular-season record, but many around the league considered them an underdog against Dallas, with its up-tempo offense and collection of scorers.

        What's more, the Mavericks had won their last three games in Sacramento and were the only opposing team to beat the Kings twice at Arco Arena during the regular season. They took three of four from the Kings overall.

        But with a solid Game 1 victory, Sacramento reminded the league which team showed Nelson that this up-tempo style could work in the first place. After struggling to get by Utah in four low-scoring first-round games, Sacramento scored 100 points for the first time in the postseason.

        “We came out aggressive and hitting our shots, and they struggled to get the looks that come so easy for them sometimes,” Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. “The team that stays consistent and stays within its game plan is the one that's probably going to win this series.”

        Dirk Nowitzki had 23 points — on 8-of-24 shooting — and 14 rebounds while mostly playing against smaller defenders. Michael Finley had 21 points and Nick Van Exel 15. All-Star point guard Steve Nash struggled, scoring 12 points and making four turnovers.

        “The five days off affected us a little bit, and we came out sluggish,” Finley said. “It's frustrating, but we knew we wouldn't go undefeated in the playoffs.”

        Dallas was further limited when forward Eduardo Najera, who harassed Webber into ineffectiveness during the regular season, broke his thumb during warmups. He played 18 minutes, but wasn't his usual defensive presence.

        Webber scored 20 points in the first three quarters, but fouled out on two quick calls in the fourth. His hands balled tightly into fists, the Kings' leading scorer watched from the bench as Stojakovic, Divac and Mike Bibby got the win.

        The Kings, backed by another deafening Arco Arena crowd, won a second-round playoff game for the first time since moving to Sacramento in 1985. Bibby had 11 points and eight assists, while Bobby Jackson added 12 points in a reserve role.

        “They're capable of making big shots, but they didn't do it today,” Stojakovic said. “They'll be back, and better.”

        Notes: Bennett Salvatore's officiating crew had extremely quick whistles on technical fouls, hitting Hedo Turkoglu and Van Exel for matching violations in the fourth quarter. ... Stojakovic and Webber had 10 rebounds apiece. ... “Late Late Show” host Craig Kilborn and actress Brittany Daniel sat courtside next to Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, who wore the tie-dyed T-shirts favored by NBC announcer Bill Walton. ... Supermodel Tyra Banks, Webber's girlfriend, went incognito with sunglasses and a floppy hat.

       



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