Kings Immortality, Four-Pointers and Trail Blazing
Portland’s Pleasant Play
Around this time last year, I wrote a piece detailing why I thought the Portland TrailBlazers would be staying home around playoff time. It caused a pretty big stir at the time, partially because of some of the wording I used but mostly because Blazer fans really believed in their team. And why shouldn’t they have? It is their team, after all, and they were playing very, very well at the time. It turns out I was right and for the very reasons that I outlined. Inexperience, road play, and other teams’ improvements meant that Brandon Roy and Co. got to watch the postseason at home like the rest of us.
I don’t expect that will be the case this year. Young or not, this team has come out showing that it means business and shouldn’t have any trouble qualifying for the second season. Part of it is a better supporting cast, part of it is more experience, but a huge portion of the Blazers’ success has to be attributed to Roy. He’s averaging 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, but more importantly, he’s stepping up when the team needs it, evidenced by his 52-point performance last night against the Suns.
It’s far too early for the "MVP" chants that echoed throughout the Rose Garden and I’m not saying that the Blazers will make any real noise in the playoffs. They’re probably a point guard and another legit scorer away from doing that. But take notice and watch them grow in front of your eyes. Then maybe you too will believe that this team is indeed blazing a trail toward something special.
The speculation has finally turned into reality, as Antoine Walker was released by the Grizzlies yesterday. He will, presumably, now look for a team that wants his services that has a chance at winning. I’ve been trying to think of what team that would be, and I’m drawing a blank. One also has to wonder if Walker, who has had his conditioning questioned by coaches before, is in shape. After all, he didn’t play a single second for Memphis this season, unless you count preseason. I don’t. Maybe he’ll have a chance to hit the winning four-pointer for a contender, as he did here.
Prior to the NBA lockout in 1998, it would probably be a fair assessment to say that the Sacramento Kings sucked. They had success in other cities, most notably in Rochester, where they won the 1951 NBA title, but after relocating to the West Coast, things were pretty bad. There were a couple of playoff appearances, but the team never even reached .500. In 1999, they got it together and started to look like a real franchise again.
At the center of that resurgence were Chris Webber and Vlade Divac. Together they led the Kings to six consecutive playoff appearances and to the brink of the Finals a couple of times. According to most Sacramento fans, they probably got screwed out of one appearance in 2002. But regardless, it is unquestioned that this team was at its best with Webber and Divac manning the frontcourt for the Kings. It was only a matter of time before their jerseys would join those of Oscar Robertson, Nate Archibald, Mitch Richmond and others in the rafters of Arco Arena. Webber will have his number 4 retired in February, Divac’s number 21 will follow in March. Congratulations to those two guys. Hopefully the Kings can find some players near their caliber soon that will enable them to climb out of the Western Conference’s cellar.