- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Even as the Sacramento Kings rolled to the NBA's best regular-season record, there was a nagging question in Rick Adelman's mind: Is his stylish team tough enough to win ugly in the playoffs?
The coach will get his answer in Salt Lake City, where the top-seeded Kings must get at least one victory to avoid a shocking first-round upset at the hands of the veteran Utah Jazz.
"That's the scary part of playing a five-game series when you slip up at home," Adelman said. "You have to win one on the road, and we're going to a tough place where not too many teams have ever done that."
Game 3 is today at the Delta Center, where a vocal, cowbell-ringing crowd will encourage Karl Malone and John Stockton to add another chapter to their years of playoff success. Sure, the Kings are more talented and more successful, but as long as they're playing Utah's hard-nosed, slowdown game, they're not the same.
"I know that if we can't get back to our style of play and stop allowing the other team to dictate what happens in the game, we're going to be in trouble," said Adelman, who abandoned his usual placid rhetoric this week to criticize his team in the style of Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "We worked on our offense in practice. We want to get back to what we do well. We want to get an idea what we can do to be successful."
So far, the Kings haven't been able to do much of the running, passing and shooting that gave them their first Pacific Division title. The Jazz evened the series by bullying the Kings during a tough, graceless Game 2 victory Tuesday night.
Utah short-circuited Sacramento's fastbreak, outhustled the Kings to almost every loose ball and controlled the boards all while making just enough shots to win. With no pressure on the Jazz, they've responded with some of their best basketball at the tail end of Sloan's most frustrating season in Utah.
"We've had some guys making an effort and competing, and that's all you can ask," Sloan said. "I didn't see any reason we couldn't be successful in this series if we gave it a good effort."
Actually, there were plenty of reasons, starting with Utah's 1,353 turnovers and Sacramento's average of 104.6 points during the regular season.
Those statistics defined the difference between the Kings, who regularly won shootouts with their opponents, and the Jazz, who led the league in turnovers for most of the season despite the presence of Stockton, the NBA's career assists leader.
But those numbers haven't mattered in the series, where Malone and Jarron Collins have set Utah's physical tone. A handful of shoving matches broke out in each of the first two games, and Malone earned a flagrant foul for clobbering Doug Christie on a layup attempt in Game 2.
On the surface, the Kings are the very definition of a finesse team, from their jump-shooting offense to Chris Webber, the power forward who prefers to shoot 18-foot jumpers.
But prolonged spells of gritty defense, mostly on the road, led Adelman to believe his team had enough moxie to mix it up with the Jazz or Shaquille O'Neal's Lakers.
"I think we're tough enough to win, but I think we're frustrated that we haven't showed it yet," Webber said. "They play a real tough, veteran game, and we know we have to get down and dirty and get in the trenches to get out of this series."
While Webber and his teammates stewed in Sacramento, upbraiding themselves daily in the media for their failings in the first two games, the Jazz practiced with quiet confidence. Malone spent Thursday afternoon attending Little League practice with his son, Karl Jr., and rejecting ticket requests from friends and family.
"When you're at home, you've got to give the crowd something to yell for," Malone said. "But don't get so excited that you forget to play."

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