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  • Game info: 9:30 pm EDT Thu May 8, 2003
  • TV: ESPN

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Kings lead 1-0.

If this is the best the Dallas Mavericks’ improved defense can do, the Sacramento Kings might have an easier time in the Western Conference semifinals than they did last year.

After the Kings dominated the series opener, the Mavericks try to avoid dropping the first two games on their home court when the teams meet in Game 2 on Thursday night.

Sacramento easily won last year’s series in five games, averaging 112.8 points and shooting 47 percent. Because of that, Dallas made improving its defensive play a priority for this season.

The Mavericks did get better, allowing 95.2 points per game after yielding 101.0 last season to rank 28th in the league. But that improved play was nowhere to be found in Game 1.

The Kings shot 55 percent from the floor and put six players in double figures in their 124-113 victory Tuesday night. Sacramento scored 33 points in the first quarter and 36 in the third of a game that even Mavericks coach Don Nelson said wasn’t as close as the final score.

Though they had three players finish with 20 points and scored 10 points more than their league-leading season average of 103.0 points, the Mavs know they have no chance of winning if they don’t do a better job of defending the Kings.

“They were extremely focused and they executed and got whatever they wanted,” Mavs guard Steve Nash said. “That’s not the way the series can go if we’re going to win it.”

Unfortunately for Dallas, Sacramento might the toughest team in the league to defend.

Besides the 50 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists they got from starting forwards Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, the Kings also received double-figure scoring from two other starters and two reserves. Sacramento had 31 assists and made nine 3-pointers.

“We really had a flow going,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “We had different guys coming in and shooting the ball. It makes it hard to guard us when it goes that way.”

So hard that the Mavs don’t sound like they have any answers for the Kings.

“We tried nothing different than we’ve been doing, but they totally picked us apart. I didn’t know where to go,” Nelson said. “I tried different players and combinations, changed strategies, but whatever we did was countered.

“We will watch film and come up with a few different ideas. Bottom line is we have to play better and they have to play worse.”

Since losing Game 3 of their first-round series against Utah, the Kings have been dominant, winning their last three games by an average of 16 points. They are shooting 49.1 percent and scoring 107 points per game in the postseason.

Meanwhile, Dallas continues to look shaky. The Mavs won their first three games against Portland in the first round, then dropped three straight before winning Game 7. They have three double-digit defeats in their last five games, including losses by 19 and 22 points.

Still, the Kings say they won’t be overconfident.

“In no way are we fooled by winning one game,” Webber said. “We learned from their last series—win three straight and then losing three straight. We are never relaxed. I was glad to steal one here and hopefully we can get another one.”

The series moves to Sacramento for games Saturday night and Sunday night.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Kings - 59-23, 2nd seed; beat Utah Jazz 4-1, first round. Mavericks - 60-22, 3rd seed; beat Portland Trail Blazers 4-3, first round.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Kings - F Webber, F Stojakovic, C Vlade Divac, G Mike Bibby, G Doug Christie. Mavericks - F Dirk Nowitzki, F Eduardo Najera, C Raef LaFrentz, G Nash, G Michael Finley.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Stojakovic, 23.2 ppg; Webber, 8.7 rpg; Bibby, 6.3 apg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 28.4 ppg and 9.1 rpg; Nash, 7.6 apg.

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Kings, 3-1. The Kings won the first three matchups before a 129-123 overtime home loss on March 16, snapping their six-game winning streak in the series. The teams combined for 234.5 points per meeting. Nowitzki put up 28.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in the series, while Webber averaged 23.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in three meetings.

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