Is Dallas’ D really bothering Kings?

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DALLAS (AP)—Something must be wrong with the Sacramento Kings.

There has to be a good explanation why a team that averaged 102.8 points per game this season scored just 83 and 79 the last two playoff games.

Maybe it’s just bad aim. Or not passing enough, leading to players settling for bad shots. It could even be bad luck.

Well, there is one other possibility. It just doesn’t seem plausible.

Could the Dallas Mavericks really be playing good defense? After all, the Mavericks allowed the second-most points in the league and hadn’t held teams under 100 points in consecutive games in nearly six weeks. They hadn’t given up less than 90 in consecutive games since early December.

“That makes me feel good,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said Sunday, sarcastically.

Sacramento’s scoring woes are probably as much about what it is doing wrong as Dallas is doing right.

Whether the Mavericks continue their surprising resolve when they don’t have the ball, or whether the Kings can revert to their typical slick-passing, good-shooting form will go a long toward determining who wins this series. Sacramento still leads 2-1 going into Game 4 on Monday night.

“I hesitate to talk like we’ve actually accomplished anything,” said Dallas assistant coach Del Harris, the team’s defensive strategist. “To act like we’ve got all our problems solved would be overstating the case.”

But they could be on to something.

Since Game 2, the Mavericks have been using a combination defense that mixes man-to-man and zone. They’ve also been drawing Sacramento’s smaller players closer to the rim when the Kings are on defense. That takes them out of rhythm once they get the ball back.

“Strategy is a defense as well, not just guys switching on a pick-and-roll,” Sacramento star Chris Webber said Sunday. “Their strategy has been good. They’ve done a good job in their preparation.”

The Kings have so many skilled shooters and passers that they can overcome most defensive obstacles. Adelman is frustrated because his players have instead played into Dallas’ hands, especially in a 104-79 loss in Game 3 Saturday night.

Sacramento had just 11 assists, by far its fewest this season. Webber and Vlade Divac had one apiece and Brad Miller didn’t have any; as a trio they average 14.2 assists per game.

The Kings also committed 26 turnovers, three more than the first two games combined.

“That tells me that offensively we weren’t doing what we needed to do,” Adelman said. “If a team takes something away, then something else should be there. We’re really forcing the first thing. There are other options you can take. … You give them credit, but you have to look at yourself, too.”

In Game 3, Webber and Mike Bibby each scored 22 points. The rest of the club combined for 35, with Peja Stojakovic contributing just seven points. He took only one shot in the second half. Doug Christie plummeted from two big games to going scoreless through three quarters.

“We’re never going to be a great defensive team, but if we can limit their layups and contest their shots, that’s our game,” said Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has been mocked as “irk” because he has no D.

It’s also worth noting that Miller is playing with a sore elbow and Divac’s minutes have been kept way down because of the Mavericks’ small lineup. Adelman said Divac is not quick enough to defend a center who sets up around the 3-point line and he’s not contributing enough offensively to make up for it.

In addition to the problems Dallas’ defense caused in Game 3, the Kings also were annoyed by some things they considered offensive. There was a pregame cartoon that hammered on sensitive subjects, such as Christie being depicted on a leash tugged by his wife and Webber being showered with money at Michigan.

Also, the Kings weren’t pleased that Nowitzki and Steve Nash went back into the game during the fourth quarter with Dallas already up by 25.

“That was cute,” Webber said. “We’ll remember that.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Sacramento
M. Bibby M. Bibby
8-16,  22 Pts
3 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Dallas
J. Howard J. Howard
2-9,  6 Pts
14 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists