Sacramento wins series 4-1 (Game 1 of 5)

Sacramento wins series 4-1

Game 1: Sunday, April 18th
Game 2: Tuesday, April 20th
Game 3: Saturday, April 24th
Game 4: Monday, April 26th
Game 5: Thursday, April 29th

Mavericks 105


Kings 116

(55-27, 34-7 home)

    12:30 PM ET, April 18, 2004

    Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA

    1 2 3 4 T
    DAL 31 34 20 20105
    SAC 34 29 23 30116

    Top Performers

    Dal: D. Nowitzki 32 Pts, 13 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl, 5 Blk

    Sac: C. Webber 26 Pts, 12 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk

    High stakes in much-anticipated series

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. ( news services) -- One immensely talented team will be eliminated in the first round. One coaching staff could be finished. At least one fanatical owner will be hugely disappointed to see his millions wasted.

    The stakes are enormous in the Sacramento Kings' playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams began the season as Western Conference powerhouses with serious designs on a championship, but underwhelming regular seasons pushed the NBA's two highest-scoring teams into an early-round meeting for the third straight spring.

    The losing team in this rubber match could be headed for sweeping changes, but only the Kings appear to feel the pressure.

    The fifth-seeded Mavericks laughed and joked their way through a shootaround Saturday, with Mark Cuban holding court at Arco Arena while Don Nelson's army of assistant coaches watched over the Mavs' preparations for Sunday's opener.

    "I've got no rabbits to pull out," Nelson said. "What I've got is what you've already seen. We're just going to try to play our style, and if that's not good enough, we're going home."

    Across the parking lot at the Kings' training complex, Sacramento sweated through another day of tough workouts. While the Mavs hit their stride with a small-ball lineup in the final three weeks of the regular season, the Kings lost eight of their last 12 and blew the Pacific Division title with a loss to Golden State in the finale.

    "We're looking for revenge," guard Mike Bibby said. "Everybody has picked us to lose. Everybody has given up on us. We're out to prove everybody wrong. I know I've got a little higher motivation than I did in the regular season."

    The teams' previous postseason meetings have been tremendous exhibitions of full-court, up-tempo basketball -- either the best or the worst of the NBA, depending on the observer's appetite for shameless offense. A few sample scores from the past two seasons: 125-119, 115-113, 124-113, 132-110 -- and of course, the 141-137 double-overtime thriller in Game 3 last season.

    "That's the way I always wanted to play," said Dallas forward Antawn Jamison, who arguably supplanted Sacramento's Bobby Jackson as the NBA's top sixth man after his arrival from the Warriors. "I saw them on TV last year, and that was great basketball. I hope we can do the same thing this year."

    Jamison and the Mavericks' other new arrivals struggled to join the flow earlier this season, and Dallas quickly slid out of contention for the Midwest Division title. Cuban remained solidly behind Nelson -- and three weeks ago, the innovative coach went with a lineup using 6-foot-9 Antoine Walker as the center in a small but aggressive offense.

    The Mavs responded with eight victories in their final 10 games, holding off Memphis for the conference's fifth seed. Their lineup presents serious matchup problems for the Kings and their towering front line of Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and All-Star Brad Miller.

    "They're probably going to go small, so we've got to figure out how to defend and help each other," said Peja Stojakovic, the NBA's second-leading scorer. "We've got to use our size advantage."

    More than momentum separates the Kings and the Mavs, the only two teams to average more than 100 points per game this season. Both teams also made risky late-season changes to their strategies -- and while Dallas' small lineup was an immediate success, the Kings' changes have been a disaster.

    Sacramento was atop the league in scoring and victories in early March, when Webber returned from knee surgery and immediately was put back in the Kings' rotation.

    That's also when everything began to fall apart. Webber was nowhere close to full strength, but coach Rick Adelman decided Webber needed playing time to get back in sync with his teammates -- even at the expense of Miller, who was benched to make room.

    It didn't work out that way. Webber has been unable to shoot consistently on one leg, while Miller struggled when he was thrust into a different role with fewer minutes. The problems invaded the rest of the Kings, who admit they played without much fire during their collapse in the final weeks.

    But the Kings insist they've still got time to rescue their season -- even if their first-round matchup might be the last team they wanted to play.

    "It's never been a secret that this will be an up-and-down style in this series," Doug Christie said. "That might be a way for us to get our flow back. We sure hope so."

    MEANINGFUL MATCHUP: Mike Bibby vs. Steve Nash. Bibby, the Kings' energetic point guard, averaged only 12 points and four rebounds against Nash and the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, though he increased those marks to 22.5 and 5.8 this season. Nash had a 20-point and career-high 19-assist effort against the Kings on April 1 and averaged 17 and 12.5 against them this season.

    WHO'S HOT: Mavericks: Daniels is averaging 22.8 points over his last 10 games.

    Kings: F Peja Stojakovic scored a combined 47 points on 17-of-37 shooting in his last two contests.

    WHO'S NOT: Mavericks: C Shawn Bradley has not scored in double figures since a 12-point effort at Minnesota on March 3. ... F Dirk Nowitzki scored 11 points or fewer in three of his last four games.

    Kings: Webber scored 32 points over his last two contests but made just 16-of-44 shots, including a 9-of-25 effort at Denver on Monday.

    STREAKS: The Mavericks closed the regular season with eight wins in 10 games. ... The Kings lost four of their final five.

    SEASON SERIES & HISTORY: The Mavericks went 3-1 against the Kings this season, splitting two games here. ... The Kings beat the Mavericks in five games in the conference semifinals in 2002 before Dallas returned the favor last year.

    INJURIES: Mavericks: Rookie F Josh Howard (tight right hamstring) sat out the season finale against Houston; G Michael Finley (bruised ribs and back spasms) missed two of the final four games. Kings: G Bobby Jackson (abdominal strain); F-C Brad Miller (right elbow tenderness).

    Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.