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Tuesday, May 13
 
Burden of replacing Webber falls on Bibby

By Scott Howard-Cooper
Special to ESPN.com

Chris Webber tweaks his knee, and Mike Bibby's shoulders suddenly became a concern.

Or maybe it's the throbbing in the temples due to a bigger worry from pressure buildup.

Bibby has to carry a greater load because Webber is probably done for the playoffs -- he says he isn't giving up hope for a return -- and the hero of the 2002 postseason needs to step up. Bibby can't play 6-foot-10, but he can play big.

Mike Bibby
Mike Bibby, right, scored a total of just 16 points in the series' first two games.
"I'm not as aggressive as I should be," Bibby said. "I think I'm being too passive. I'm letting my team down."

The Sacramento Kings are tied 2-2 in their Western Conference semifinal series in part because the Dallas Mavericks didn't flinch when news came of Webber's injury. They looked Sacramento straight in the rib cage and refused to back down. They would run away, but only with the ball and heading to the basket.

Point guard Bibby was at 12.2 points, 5.3 assists and 42.7 percent shooting for the playoffs heading into Game 5, and no one knew better than him that improvement was needed. No matter how routinely great Dirk Nowitzki has been for the Mavericks the entire playoffs, Dallas is going to win or lose this second round on the play of the smalls, although the asterisk is that Nowitzki shoots like a guard. He just happens to be a 7-footer; they let him hang around anyway.

It was that way before Webber went out, of course. The first half of Game 2 resulted in a record 83 points in the first half for Dallas, and the Kings were healthy then. Physically, at least. And then to have the knee injury, well, Webber wasn't just the leading scorer, he was the most critical part of the offense. He had the versatility to score from the post or the perimeter, but too often overlooked was the value of his passing, at a level few big men could match. For the last two seasons especially, the best passing team in the league had run its offense through the two big men, Webber and Vlade Divac, with limitless success.

He was the one element Dallas couldn't match. Without him, the Kings didn't have a dependable big man who could consistently capitalize on their inside edge, and Nick Van Exel on a hot streak countered every bench advantage the Kings were supposed to have with Sixth Man of the Year Bobby Jackson. Webber was the critical element, as scorer and a passer, and, it shouldn't be overlooked, as a good defender who has long had the ability to be even better.

Candidates for Webber's replacement: Keon Clark is athletic and a shot blocker, Scot Pollard is a rebounder and physical presence and Hedo Turkoglu is an option if coach Rick Adelman wants to match the Mavericks in going small. But, meanwhile, Clark is inconsistent, Pollard's a bad fit for Dallas' speed game, and Turkoglu would first need to stop for directions to the court. Adelman went with Turkoglu, who long ago had been knocked from the rotation by Jim Jackson.

Then, in the first game without Webber, Bibby was solid. He made seven of 13 shots and contributed 16 points, but he also had three assists against two turnovers and fouled out 23 seconds into the second overtime. The Mavericks guards played on.

Van Exel played 20 of a possible 22 minutes in the final period and both overtimes -- 48 in all -- accounting for eight of Dallas' 16 points in the last exhaustive extra period for a game-high 40.

Steve Nash played 20 of a possible 22 minutes in the same time -- 51 overall -- to finish with 31 points and 11 assists against one turnover. Michael Finley played 20 of the possible 22, en route to 20 points, five coming in the first overtime.

I'm not as aggressive as I should be. I think I'm being too passive. I'm letting my team down.
Mike Bibby

This would have been another Don Nelson Moment, except that it was more from necessity than preference, the Mavericks and their coach having gone through what passed for an inside presence the first two games and figuring there was no point in faking it anymore. Raef LaFrentz and Shawn Bradley are on the roster, but they're barely in the picture since Dallas got muscled by Portland in the first round, although at least LaFrentz made it to Game 1 against the Kings as a starter before getting benched early as Sacramento sprinted away. Bradley, though, is adrift. The 7-6 guy you don't see. So, going straight for the inevitable, no matter what lineup the opposition offered to replace Webber, the Mavs went small in every way but heart and performance to rally from 12 points down in the fourth quarter and win in double overtime.

They made the Kings chase them. Sacramento went with Turkoglu as the new starting power forward, going small itself, but the Kings could have picked Clark or Pollard or Spud Webb on his knees and it wouldn't have mattered. The Mavericks were not going to adjust to anyone.

Game 2 in Dallas was why. Game 3 at Arco Arena was the how.

"I hate it when Nellie tries to match up with other teams," Van Exel said. "He's known for gimmicks. ... That's when he's at his best. This series, except for the first game, it has worked out well."

A night later, in a rare same-city back-to-back, Bibby was still looking for his breakout game. He was 6-of-14 from the field and had 12 points, two assists and two turnovers, although counterpart Steve Nash made just three of 12 attempts. But Doug Christie had seven assists. Despite Webber's absence, Peja Stojakovic collected 12 rebounds and Christie had 11 more. No King broke 20 points, but six were in double figures.

Divac responded well to the loss of Webber, a critical development since so much of the offense would go through him now. Twenty points on seven-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes of Game 3. Sixteen points, six baskets in nine tries and nine rebounds in 32 minutes in Game 4.

They still have enough scorers and enough passing skills. The Kings can overcome the loss of Webber, at least in this round, just as they have overcome so much in the past, resiliency standing as one of their best traits. But the solution won't come with the replacement and new starter. It will have to be about the old starters. That's the point.

Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Mavericks
Dallas

60-22

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Playoff History

Sacramento
Sacramento

59-23

Roster
Playoff History

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