Sacramento’s depth could be key to playoff run

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Every time Matt Harpring thought the Utah Jazz were catching up, another fresh player leaped off Sacramento’s bench to keep the Kings ahead.

The Kings took full advantage of their remarkable depth in the first game of their playoff series against Utah on Saturday night, using nine players to maintain a narrow lead throughout the final 30 minutes of a 96-90 win.

Game 2 is Monday night—and Harpring knows that if he goes through another shooting slump similar to the one that gripped him in Game 1, the Jazz simply can’t compensate.

“We’re not as deep as they are—well, nobody is,” Harpring, who had 15 points on 7-for-16 shooting in Game 1, said Sunday. “We don’t have any margin for error. They’ve got a little margin. If one guy isn’t playing well, they’ve got a bunch of guys who can take it over.”

Although the Kings probably were the NBA’s deepest team last season, they decided they weren’t deep enough. So the Kings signed Keon Clark last summer— and after a series of early-season injuries hit their roster, they picked up veterans Jim Jackson and Damon Jones.

Now that everyone is healthy and focused on the playoffs, the Kings have a depth that’s almost problematic, since it gives coach Rick Adelman so many tough choices to make every night.

In Game 1, for example, Sacramento played much of the fourth quarter with Chris Webber and four reserves, who held off every Utah comeback attempt in a tight game. Adelman made the individual decisions based on matchups, but it meant significant bench time for All-Star Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby.

“It’s hard deciding who to use and when,” Adelman said. “I just thought I had a lineup together there that could play against what the Jazz were doing. Will we ever use that lineup again? Maybe not—probably not. That’s the beauty of having as many good guys as we have.”

Sacramento’s bench outscored Utah’s reserves 36-19 in Game 1. Three Kings got at least 20 minutes off the bench, while Andrei Kirilenko was the only Utah bench player to get more than 14 minutes.

The Kings are so deep that Jones—a reliable journeyman guard—didn’t make the playoff roster. Scot Pollard didn’t even get into Game 1.

Jim Jackson, Bobby Jackson and Clark all made significant contributions to the Kings’ victory. Bobby Jackson, who hasn’t complained a bit about his reduced role since returning from a broken hand, led Sacramento with six assists, and he scored nine of his 13 points after halftime.

Clark blocked two shots and discouraged others with his rangy inside presence. Utah center Greg Ostertag got most of his 18 points and 11 rebounds while matched up against starter Vlade Divac.

As usual, Jim Jackson provided defensive toughness and a steady outside shot, including two 3-pointers. He also took the ball to the hoop against Calbert Cheaney, making nine free throws while playing 30 minutes—mostly in place of ineffective starter Doug Christie.

“That’s what I like about this team: Everybody understands their role,” center Vlade Divac said. “No matter how long you’re on the floor, you try to contribute. Your playing time won’t be the same every night, so you have to make the most of it.”

The Jazz are well aware of their depth shortcomings as they awkwardly approach a transition from the Stockton-and-Malone era. Kirilenko is their only reliable scoring threat off the bench; DeShawn Stevenson and John Amaechi have been big disappointments.

Part of Utah’s problem was obvious at Arco Arena on Sunday morning: While their teammates watched film in the locker room, rookies Curtis Borchardt, Jarron Collins and Raul Lopez went through exhaustive workouts on court with the Jazz’s support staff.

All three youngsters were expected to help Utah’s bench this season, but all three were out for the season by December because of significant leg injuries.

“We know we can’t match their personnel and their depth,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “Even if we were healthy, we’re not as good as them. The only way we have a chance to compete is if we execute our game plan and stop feeling sorry for ourselves because we make a mistake.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Utah
K. Malone K. Malone
10-23,  25 Pts
7 Rebs, 8 Assists
 Sacramento
C. Webber C. Webber
11-23,  27 Pts
11 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists