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Kings have Lakers right where they want them

Column by Steve Yingling, Tribune Sports Editor

Did we really believe that the Sacramento Kings would sweep two games in Los Angeles?

Could we have predicted that Shaquille O’Neal would be a better crunch-time free throw shooter than Vlade Divac in Game 4?

And given Robert Horry’s history of dagger-sticking 3-pointers, how could the Kings give him an open look at a game-winning shot?

But Kings fans should be nothing but happy. How many actually thought the Kings would be all square with the Lakers after four games after squandering home-court advantage in the series’ first game?

Wasn’t that about the same time that NBC analyst Bill Walton was starting to take a poll to see where this Laker team should be ranked among the NBA’s all-time dynasties?

Give me a break, this team isn’t among the top five squads in Laker history.

As painful as the 100-99 defeat to the Lakers was on Sunday, the Kings have a cache of reasons to think they can dethrone Los Angeles in now what amounts to a best-of-three series.

— Mike Bibby has established himself as one of the league’s best point guards in the postseason. He’s gotten so good that the Lakers often double team him in the fourth quarter. Who did he replace and what we’re the Grizzlies thinking?

— Despite what Walton repeatedly says to pick apart Chris Webber’s low-post game, “C Webb” is delivering clutch basket after clutch basket in this final-before-the-anticlimactic-final series. If the Kings could have put the ball in his capable hands more often in the final minutes Sunday, maybe they’d be playing for a spot in the championship today. I also like what Webber said following the heart-breaking defeat Sunday.

“We were one lucky play away from winning,” Webber said. “We just have to come back and not worry about this, because we feel we have the better team.”

— Now that there isn’t as much of a delay between games — one day off between Game 4 and 5 and Game 6 and 7 — the Kings’ superior bench will begin to wear down the Lakers. Horry, Shaq and Kobe Bryant combined for 70 of the Lakers’ points on Sunday. If they don’t get more help, the Kings should be able to even give the end of their bench some playing time before the series concludes.

— Is anyone really missing All-Star Peja Stojakovic? Bobby Jackson, despite a cold-shooting game Sunday, has been a fearless penetrator, even with Shaq hogging the lane. More importantly, Jackson’s drives to the basket often-times keep the Kings from settling for those lazy perimeter shots and prevent the Lakers from making more runs.

— Oh, yes, two of the next three games are in Arco Arena? Isn’t it about time for the Kings to start taking advantage of the home-court edge they worked so hard for in compiling the best regular-season record at 61-21?

— Bryant will be afraid to eat in Sacramento this week and won’t have the same energy at crunch time. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get any more motivation at the movies.

— Kings coach Rick Adelman will show his players tape of Sunday’s first quarter and nothing else. If they move the ball today like they did in the opening 12 minutes Sunday, they’ll bury the Lakers.

If these Kings don’t believe they’re better than the Lakers after a split of four games, then they didn’t learn anything in Los Angeles.

It’s time for a new King in the NBA.

— Steve Yingling can be reached at syingling@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 542-8010.


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