- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Everyone wants to ask them about losing so narrowly and bitterly to the Lakers, or the endless stream of insults that flow between the teams, or that exhibition game where bubbling emotion spilled right into a bonus round for the Friday Night Fights card.
Everyone wants to know even more about Christmas Day, and what might happen next.
Everyone better check with someone else.
"I don't even talk about Christmas Day," Rick Adelman said. "I'm trying to get us ready for Thanksgiving."
The coach chuckles at his line a little, but only a little, because he's serious. There is usually considerable cackling wherever the Sacramento Kings are, this being a team full of court jesters, but Adelman knows they don't look worlds more prepared to entertain the country on Dec. 25 than the Shaq-less Lakers do. Which sometimes makes it hard for even the Kings to be light-hearted.
"It's a different year," Adelman said. "We've talked about this (in-house) since camp started. Everything is going to be different this year. As a team, we're going to have to meet new challenges."
It's a message Adelman has to repeat less and less now in Sactown, where the only thing intact for the local heroes is their ARCO Arena sellout streak. Sacramento's run of uninterrupted full houses is officially the league's longest, at 136, after New York's was halted last Monday at 433. Of course, that's not the streak that snagged the headlines last week, with Sacramento losing three games in a row (something that never happened last season).
Chris Webber called it "a little rut," and the losses -- to Miami, Orlando and New York -- coincided with a rash of injuries. Yet the Kings were disappointed anyway, remembering how well they coped with injuries last season.
Better than anyone, if you've forgotten.
Without Webber for the first 20 games, Sacramento went 15-5.
Without Peja Stojakovic for the final 2½ games of the second-round series against Dallas, the Kings closed out a 4-1 rout.
Without Stojakovic for the first four games of the Western Conference finals, they were thisclose to putting the Lakers in a 3-1 hole, until Vlade Divac batted that ball out to Robert Horry and Horry swished that 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
It looked like the new season would be fairly similar, even without Mike Bibby for up to six weeks, when the Kings opened with three straight wins, including a 28-point waxing of Portland without Bibby (foot surgery) or Webber (groin). Problem is, various Kings kept getting hurt after the good start, and those still standing stopped guarding people, seemingly forgetting that the 24-point average margin of victory in those three wins came against Cleveland, Memphis and the combustible Blazers. Much as Sacramento could probably attribute the skid at least somewhat to fatigue, suffering all three defeats during a four games-in-five nights stretch, complacency was also a factor.
"Ain't nothing missing," said Bobby Jackson, starting in Bibby's place and dismissing the injuries as an alibi. "We just ain't playing no defense. At all."
Only now, when it's time to snap back, the Kings really are missing something despite improving to 5-3 with subsequent home wins over the Grizzlies and Hawks. Along with Webber, Divac (back), Keon Clark (groin) and Hedo Turkoglu (food poisoning) have all sat out games. All but Turkoglu are still playing hurt and moving gingerly, and there was a bigger blow after the losing streak: Scot Pollard being told that he'll have to miss four to six weeks because of his own back issues.
So, yeah, Christmas seems a long way off, even with a relatively friendly schedule for the rest of the month. Adelman knows it'll be tougher to start 15-5 again because "we didn't have three or four guys out last year."
Question is, can Adelman keep the Kings as focused as they need to be to make it to the rematch with the Lakers as a heavyweight? It'll take more discipline to play through two long-term injuries, which puts more onus on the coach and his laissez-faire style.
Especially if Webber's legal troubles begin clouding the picture next month, as they could, when a judge starts hearing arguments to decide when to schedule Webber's trial on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to a federal grand jury.
About those new challenges? Sounds like Adelman faces a big one already.
"It's not just going to happen because it happened before," Adelman said when asked what he's telling his players. "You've got to understand your situation, and we haven't been consistent."
Divac counters by saying "I'm not worried, because I know this team." Webber, meanwhile, invites other teams and league observers to "kick us when we're down," implying that no one should expect it to last.
"It's a different year," Webber said, offering evidence that he's indeed listening to the coach. "The other teams know you better and they're coming for you. But we'll come out of this. It's better to be good later than sooner."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
18hMatt Walks, ESPN.com