Kings have all of the symptoms of a playoff bust
How bad are things going for the Sacramento Kings?
For one, a columnist in the Kings’ hometown paper is calling for coach Rick Adelman to salvage the season by bringing All-Star Chris Webber off the bench.
For another, their top reserve and No. 1 spark plug, Bobby Jackson, needs a summer vacation without basketball to cure a strained abdominal muscle.
Moreover, the Kings are playing like a team getting ready for the NBA lottery, not on the verge of winning their third straight West Division title.
How did a promising season turn so ugly? Didn’t the Kings put together the league’s best record through two-thirds of the season without their franchise player, Webber?
With Webber back in the lineup over the last third of the season you would have anticipated that Sacramento would have nailed down every home-court edge possible, not slogging through cow pies as the season enters its most crucial phase.
But the Kings are a prime example why sports are so titillating: Just when you think you’ve figured out a team or a season, the unexpected happens.
If Bobby Knight was coaching the Kings, certainly Webber would be coming off the bench instead of firing up bricks from the perimeter. Sparing one player’s feelings at the expense of team success doesn’t lead to coaching longevity.
Without Webber, the Kings learned that they could win most of their NBA games with team chemistry and unselfishness. With Webber, the Kings have the chemistry of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck and the selfishness of a parent of four spending their weekends skydiving.
In the Kings’ eight-point loss on Monday night, two players accounted for 42 of the team’s 85 shots. That distribution is fine when the shots are falling, but Webber and Peja Stojakovic combined to miss 26 of their 42 attempts. If they each had passed on three of their shots, perhaps the Kings win by four.
“We had the most motivation we possibly could have,” Kings’ guard Anthony Peeler told the Associated Press. “We could have clinched the Pacific tonight. Now we have to go home and do it (today). We’re disappointed by this.”
The irony is that the Kings would probably do better to finish second in the West and go into the playoffs as the fourth seed. In such a scenario, they would play either Dallas or Memphis in the first round and avoid the defending champion Spurs if they somehow make it to the conference semifinals.
By winning the West, the Kings would start out with the formidable Houston Rockets, who feature an exciting inside-outside game of Steve Francis and Yao Ming. A bad matchup with the Spurs looms in the next round and a longer offseason so that could help Webber and Mike Bibby won’t have to hand out hard hats on the golf course.
The Kings are 7-10 in their past 17 games. Perhaps fatigue and disinterest are contributing to the team’s poor finish, but you would think they would try to throttle a few teams before the postseason to rebuild their confidence.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had 54 wins with three games to go and feel like it’s really been a struggle,” Adelman said in Sunday’s edition of the Sacramento Bee before the Kings trounced the Lakers by 17 points.
Stagnant sets and Webber’s reluctance to surrender the focal point of the offense has the Kings’ backs to the wall with Humpty- Dumpty teetering above them. They built NBA’s best record while Webber was recovering from career-threatening microfracture surgery with the lost art of movement without the ball and quick passing.
Now the Kings win or lose depending on how many misses the team can withstand between Webber and Stojakovic.
While Kings’ fans stand to lose a long run in the playoffs, Adelman figures to lose much more – his job. Only Adelman can put the Kings back together again, even if it means listening to a columnist in his hometown.
– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or email@example.com