Thursday , Mar , 18 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Can Sacramento get over the hump?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The Sacramento Kings are healthy and are
finally ready to earn their way into the NBA Finals.

Sacramento is in first place in the Pacific Division, four games ahead of the
Los Angeles Lakers. Both teams have 14 games remaining. The Kings are also the
top seed in the Western Conference, as they have a slim lead over Midwest
Division-leading Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Kings played their first 58 games of the season without star forward Chris
Webber, who has missed just one of the team’s last 10 contests. Without the
Michigan product this season, Sacramento is 44-15, while the Kings are just
5-4 when Webber is in the lineup.

Don’t be fooled, if the Kings want to win in the playoffs they are going to
need a healthy Webber. When Sacramento lost Webber to a knee injury in last
year’s playoffs, it was not able to advance out of the second round against

The 31-year-old Webber has averaged 18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists
in the nine games that he has played in. He has played about 31 minutes per
game, as head coach Rick Adelman is trying to find a steady rotation for his
deep roster.

With a frontcourt that consists of veteran center Vlade Divac, Webber and All-
Stars Brad Miller and Peja Stojakovic, the Kings have to like their chance in
the West, which is won down low in the playoffs.

Miller, who is a two-time All-Star, is playing in his first season with the
Kings. While Webber was on the sidelines, Miller played both power forward and
center and is a big reason why Sacramento is in first place. Acquired in the
offseason from Indiana as part of a three-team trade, Miller has averaged 15
points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

The 27-year-old Miller is a team player and has proved his value to the Kings.
When Webber came back, Miller moved back to his role as a reserve and has not
missed a beat.

Playing in his sixth season in the NBA, Stojakovic is having his best year in
the league. He is averaging a team-best and career-high 24.8 points. He has
started 67 of the Kings’ 68 games and has shot an impressive 43.8 percent from
three-point range.

Divac, 36, has been consistent for the Kings. He has started all 68 of
Sacramento’s games and is averaging 10.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and a team-best
5.8 assists. Along with Miller, he gives Adelman a nice one-two punch in the

Let’s not forget Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson. These three eat
up most of the minutes in the backcourt.

The starting point guard Bibby, who had a breakout performance against the
Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, is having an awesome season. He
has averaged a career-high 18.4 points to go along with 5.5 assists.

Christie, a defensive specialist, and Jackson have teamed with Bibby to give
Adelman a very formidable threesome to mix-and-match in the backcourt. With
swingman Anthony Peeler, who can play shooting guard or small forward, the
Kings have a talented and deep roster.

Adelman will go with primarily an eight-man rotation, with forwards Darius
Songalia and Tony Massenburg also playing some valuable minutes in the

The Kings can put on a basketball clinic when they are at the top of their
game. On offense, Sacramento moves the ball around the perimeter, and finds
the open man on the inside when it is not hitting the open shot from the
outside. On the other side of the court, the Kings are tenacious as they play
intense, in your face team defense.

Sacramento, which has five players who average more than four assists per
game, are the definition of what a team should be. But, will it be good enough
to beat the Lakers, Spurs or Timberwolves?

The Kings are still finding their way with Webber back in the lineup. They
should be able to holdoff the Lakers in the Pacific and earn the No. 1 seed in
the West. Expect Sacramento to use its final 14 games to continue to get used
to having a complete roster.

If healthy, I think the Kings can beat anyone. They have the size down low,
are deadly from the outside and play solid defense. This could be the year
that Sacramento slays the dragon and represents the Western Conference in the
NBA Finals.