- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. In each of their two previous playoff series, the Sacramento Kings, winners of a league-high 36 home games this season, let homecourt advantage slip away. However, the Kings never lost their confidence and went on to beat rather easily, in fact both the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks.
But after being beaten at home Saturday night by the Los Angeles Lakers to give away the advantage again at Arco Arena, the once brash Kings appear to have toned down their rhetoric. They already know what is at stake in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals here tonight.
"There is more pressure on us," said center Vlade Divac, whose job is to try and slow the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal. "We lost home game number one. If you lose number two you basically put yourself one step out of the series. You don't want to go to Los Angeles 0-2. You have to be alive going there to have a chance at winning."
When the Lakers erupted for 36 points in the first quarter of their 106-99 win, their sixth consecutive playoff victory against the Kings, they appear to be more focused than the Kings. They never trailed in the game, and the lead hovered around double figures for most of the second half. But perhaps even more importantly for the two-time defending champions, their two superstars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, looked the best they have at any time in the playoffs.
Bryant, who was guarded by defensive stopper Doug Christie, scored a game-high 30 points and was spectacular. In the process, Bryant hit some shots most notably jumpers with Christie hanging all over him that left the Kings, quite frankly, in awe.
"Kobe is Kobe, and Shaq is Shaq," said Chris Webber, who led the Kings with 28 points and 14 rebounds. "Kobe hit some shots where it looked like Doug was attached to him. You can't guard him any better than that, and he's such a great player that he's going to hit them. And Shaq dominated play on the inside."
O'Neal finished the game with 26 points, nine rebounds and half of the Lakers' eight blocked shots.
More than anything it was the Lakers' quick start that caught the Kings off guard. The Lakers prefer to play from the inside out, getting the ball inside to O'Neal first, then, if he can't get a shot off, kicking it out. But the Lakers came out with energy, got a lot of players involved and took a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
"Obviously we can't allow them to get out like that because they are too good," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't think we were caught off guard by the way they came out. But that just points out how we have to be at the top of our games if we are going to beat them."
Said Webber: "There is no doubt about it. We are the underdogs in this series."
The Lakers are the clear favorites to win the title again this year, and the Kings' chances were even more remote because of the absence of 6-foot-9 swingman Peja Stojakovic (sprained right ankle). Stojakovic, the team's second-leading scorer during the regular season with a 21.2 point average, could be available at the earliest for Game 3 on Friday in Los Angeles. His replacement, Hedo Turkoglu, was scoreless in 29 minutes in Game 1.
"They missed [Stojakovic] in a lot of different areas," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "He's a stabilizer for them, and he hits that jump shot. That takes a lot from their offense."
Meanwhile, the Lakers don't seem to need any extra help to remain focused on the Kings. The brash talk the Kings displayed before the series is still fresh in their minds.
"We've been content to go about our business," small forward Rick Fox said. "We expect and anticipate a competitive approach from our opponents. We understand that they are going to carry their hearts on their sleeve and speak of how confident they are and how much heart they have. They can believe that if they want. But these are the games and the results are what will be talked about more."


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