SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- They placed tenacious defense, they
fought for every loose ball -- and in the final minutes of a close
game, they repeatedly ran the pick-and-roll to perfection.
Chris Webber had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and Peja Stojakovic
scored 16 points as the Kings showed the discipline and versatility
they'll need to contend for the NBA title, beating the Jazz 96-90
Saturday night in their playoff opener.
Except for a clumsy start, the Kings were sharp and effective
while playing Utah's famously deliberate style. There were few fast
breaks and even fewer easy baskets, but the high-scoring Kings
never trailed in the final 30 minutes.
"We're trying to be more precise with what we do,'' Webber
said. "It's not for us to go out and score 120 points against
these guys. It's to go out and control the tempo, and win these
Jim Jackson scored 15 points for the Kings, who are facing the
Jazz in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in five
As usual in the teams' meetings, Utah controlled the tempo -- and
as usual, the Kings won. The Pacific Division champions have won 13
of their last 15 against Utah, including a 3-1 series victory in
the first round last season.
"They get us ready, just like last year,'' said Mike Bibby, who
made three straight outstanding pick-and-roll passes in the final
minutes. "They beat us up last year, and I think it got us ready
for what we had to do down the road. I think they'll do that to us
The seventh-seeded Jazz got an outstanding game from Karl
Malone, who had 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the
first game of his 18th trip to the playoffs.
In the first game of what might be the final playoff run in
Malone's 18-year partnership with John Stockton, the Jazz shut down
Sacramento's fast break, rebounded well and kept the score low
against the NBA's third-best offense.
The Jazz pulled to 78-76 on Malone's free throws with 3:13 left,
but Bibby drove past Stockton and dished for consecutive baskets --
a jumper by Webber and a 3-pointer by Stojakovic.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan was frustrated to see his team's
toughness matched and exceeded by the Kings.
"We just do not have the toughness at times ... to do the
things that you'd expect to teach grade-school players,'' Sloan
said. "You can't do a lot of the sloppy, careless things that we
did when you're playing a team that good that's on their home
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night.
Greg Ostertag had a career playoff-high 18 points and 11
rebounds for the Jazz, dominating the paint at times. Stockton had
13 points and five rebounds, while Matt Harpring scored 13 of his
15 points in the second half.
Bobby Jackson had 13 points and six assists for the Kings.
After the typically exuberant pregame festivities at Arco Arena,
the Kings were shaky, committing two offensive fouls and making six
turnovers in the first quarter. Malone scored 13 points, mostly on
outside jumpers, as Utah took a nine-point lead.
Both teams struggled in the second quarter. Utah scored just
eight points on 3-of-17 shooting, while Sacramento scored 13
straight points and took a five-point halftime lead despite going
more than five minutes between baskets.
"Any little mistake, and they'll pick you apart,'' Ostertag
said. "That's what they did. Still, we had a chance with two
minutes left, so I don't think anybody in here will be holding
their head down.''
An uneasy vibe hung over Arco Arena throughout the second half
as Utah thwarted Sacramento's up-tempo offense and kept the Kings'
lead small. Sacramento coach Rick Adelman used unorthodox lineups,
limiting starter Doug Christie to 22 minutes and keeping Bibby on
the bench in the fourth quarter until the final minutes.
"We're just trying to figure out what works best against this
team,'' Adelman said. "Luckily, we made some exceptional plays on
offense down the stretch. I don't have a lot of complaints about
the decisions we made. We were tough.''
The Kings and the Jazz have been frequent playoff opponents
since Sacramento vaulted into prominence during the
strike-shortened 1999 season.
Sacramento won the series in four games last season, though the
first two games at Arco were tight. Utah won Game 2 -- a day after
Vlade Divac said the Jazz were "done'' -- only to lose twice at the
Stockton is in the playoffs for the 19th season -- an NBA
record. ... The Jazz wore their black-and-copper alternate road
uniforms. ... The teams finished the regular season against each
other at Arco last Wednesday. Sacramento won 95-84. ... While
chasing a loose ball in the first half, Stockton landed on George
Maloof, the casino-running brother of Kings owners Joe and Gavin
Maloof, in his courtside seat.
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