Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Webber makes case for MVP

By Janie McCauley
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Chris Webber's teammates, his coach and his fans are campaigning hard for him to start getting more mention for MVP. And Webber? Well, he insists he's just doing his thing.

He had 36 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four steals, and all five Sacramento starters scored in double figures, leading the Kings to a 109-102 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night.

The Arco Arena crowd chanted "MVP" for their star forward.

Webber shook his head when asked about it.

"That's kind of a dream I put on the back burner," he said. "You have to be in an exclusive club. You have to be liked by the media, and not (just) in Sacramento. I just go out and play. I hope I deserve it. Playing on a team like this, I feel a lot of responsibility."

Peja Stojakovic has been carrying his share of the load, too. He scored 12 of his 26 points in the third quarter and is averaging 26.1 points in his past seven games for the Kings, who improved to 18-2 at home. Mike Bibby added 13 points and 10 assists and Vlade Divac and Doug Christie each scored 11.

Jason Kidd led New Jersey with 27 points, and also had five rebounds, five assists and three steals in another frustrating night for the Atlantic Division leaders against Sacramento.

Though this one wasn't nearly as bad as the previous meeting.

The Nets lost by 36 points at home to the Kings on Jan. 9 in a game that left coach Byron Scott "stunned." That loss snapped his team's 10-game winning streak and was its worst defeat of the season. This one was much closer but didn't leave New Jersey feeling much better, especially coming on the heels of an overtime loss at Utah on Monday night.

The Nets were exhausted following their 106-103 defeat to the Jazz that lasted three hours and featured 63 personal fouls, two flagrant fouls, and three technicals.

Kidd kept them in it Tuesday night. He scored eight straight in the fourth quarter to pull the Nets within 89-82 with 8:19 left and Kenyon Martin added two free throws and Richard Jefferson also scored to make it 89-86, but the Nets couldn't take the lead. They were down 14 heading into the final quarter, and missed multiple scoring chances in the final minute.

Martin had 17 points and 13 rebounds.

The Pacific Division-leading Kings hold the second-best record in the Western Conference behind the Dallas Mavericks.

"They have a thing going against us right now," said Nets forward Richard Jefferson, who scored 19. "They were on fire tonight. We're still the best team from the East. When it's all said and done, we'll only see one team from the West."

The Kings shot a season-best 58 percent, including 13-for-21 by Webber.

"Who's playing better in the league than he is right now?" Kings coach Rick Adelman asked.

Kerry Kittles was moved into the Nets' starting lineup in place of Lucious Harris. Kittles returned from a month on the injured list Jan. 3 after sitting out with a strained left knee. It was planned that he would rejoin the starting five once he was healthy again. He had 15 points.

Kidd scored five straight points to pull the Nets within 62-59 with 8:18 left in the third, but Stojakovic scored seven straight during one spurt to keep the momentum in the Kings' favor heading into the final quarter.

Sacramento knew it wouldn't win so easily this time around.

"After what happened in Jersey, that was kind of one of those games that happens very seldom and we knew this team was going to come at us," Adelman said. "They kept making runs and we responded to all of those runs."

The Nets missed five of their first six shots and struggled to find an offensive rhythm early against the Kings' aggressive pressure defense. New Jersey forced several shots and started the game 4-for-15 to Sacramento's 10-of-15 (66.7 percent).

The Kings used a 10-0 run to build a 20-6 lead and held a 54-45 advantage at halftime. Sacramento shot 64 percent in the first half.

Stojakovic hit back-to-back 3s to end the first quarter and put the Kings ahead 29-18.

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