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The Kings' Best Role Is Still the Pretender

November 19, 2001|Mark Heisler

Needed: rival (other than each other, that is.)

Wouldn't it be great if the Lakers had another team to worry about so they'd stop bickering and we could get some peace around here?

Of course, the problem is finding someone to stand up to them, which is what separates a rival from a pigeon.

Latest to audition for the part were the Sacramento Kings, who stayed with them through three quarters Sunday night, even taking a seven-point lead early in the fourth ...

... Before the Lakers turned around and finished with a little 25-10 run to win going away, 93-85.

That made 11 wins in the Lakers' last 13 games with the Kings over three seasons, including the 4-0 sweep in the playoffs last spring. As rivalries go, this one still falls short of epic.

"It's not a setback," said King Coach Rick Adelman, sounding pleased to have come this close.

"Sure, we would have liked to have this game but we're still learning and that's an awful good team we played. Give them credit. They took the game away from us."

Except for the basketball, this one has it all. You know how it goes: Southern California vs. Northern California, sophisticates vs. cowtown. They don't like us and, if we happen to think of them, which happens rarely enough, we aren't overly impressed by them.

Take King personnel director Jerry Reynolds, who has been watching Sacramento teams take their lumps against the Lakes since the '80s, as coach, assistant coach and general manager. He says he hates everything about Los Angeles, including flying over it and looking down at the suburbs.

"I really think the city's great," Reynolds said before Sunday's game. "They just got too many people here. They oughta make one of every two leave, you know, sort of a lottery. I don't know how you'd work it but you'd say, 'Hey, sorry, you gotta go somewhere else, there's too many people here."'

Of course, Reynolds is from French Lick, Ind., and may think Sacramento is too urban too.

At least in the Kings' minds, this is still a rivalry ... potentially.

"I see them as the team that we have to learn how to beat if we want to win a championship," said Scot Pollard, modeling his new look--shaved head and goatee--after last season's pony tail and sideburns.

It's just that the Kings keep flunking the exams. Not that it's an easy assignment ...

You can use April 10, 2001, when Kobe Bryant returned to the lineup against the Suns, as the night he and Shaquille O'Neal started to get over the hump as a tandem.

Since, the Lakers are 27-2.

"They're always good," said Pollard, feigning nonchalance. "They've got different pieces in the puzzle this year. We beat 'em in the preseason so, really, we have nothing to worry about."

"Until someone beats 'em, not just regular season but playoffs, they're the world champs," Adelman said before the game. "You've got to go through 'em first. I thought we made progress last year during the regular season, the way we played, but there was still a gap there during the playoffs that we've got to narrow....

"I think they were the better team [in the playoffs]. Their two big guys really stepped up big time. First game was Shaq, then we had to surround him and then Kobe took over the last three games basically."

Gee, that's a formula that could work again!

Before the game, Adelman was also catching up on the latest news of O'Neal's complaints about Coach Phil Jackson.

"He's just embarrassed about being overweight and needs someone to take it out on," someone suggested.

"Yeah," said Adelman, "probably on us."

That's why them call him coach.

O'Neal, playing like a man possessed, went for 28 points and 15 rebounds on a night when his best shot was a follow-up of the one he had just missed.

Bryant had 29 points with eight assists. The scary thing is, if you're from Sacramento, San Antonio, et al., that's just about their averages.

Meanwhile, the Kings got fine games from Peja Stojakovic (25 points) and Vlade Divac (15 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists) and 15-of-52 shooting from everyone else. If you wish to slay the giant, in his own lair, when he's awake, you'd better bring more than that.

Of course, it's a little early for the Lakers to go into their home-run trot. With Rick Fox newly emerged from his slump, Samaki Walker struggling, Mitch Richmond yet to make an impact and Robert Horry looking like he usually does in November (asked what injury Horry suffered Sunday, Jackson said, "misalignment"), the Lakers' new depth, uh, has yet to assert itself on the floor.

But it's early. The next time the Lakers see the Kings, it'll be Dec. 7 at Sacramento, with cowbells, and, presumably Chris Webber.

Hope springs eternal in Northern California, or at least, it had better.

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