This wasn't the plan.
Rick Adelman was supposed to be out of a job this morning. Peja was supposed to be on his way to a new squad before New Year's, maybe along with Mike Bibby or Brad Miller. The youth movement and the road to a lottery pick were upon us, only to be dashed by the rare flash of brilliance popping from the golden garment.
The Kings, who had just gotten blown out by the Blazers at home, were headed to L.A. to face the first-place Clippers. The Kings were 3-8 on the road, losers of five straight and 6-11 against fellow Western Conference foes.
All that, and they were without not only Bonzi Wells, not only Peja Stojakovic, but also Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Letting one of Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia start is fine - relying on both of those guys for 35+ minutes PLUS sticking Kenny Thomas in there against Elton Brand is frightening.
So what happens? The damn Kings play their most inspired ball of the season, wiping the mat clean in 17-point victory. Mike Bibby was the quickest and most confident guy on the court; Brad Miller absolutely owned Hulk Kaman on the block; Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia played terrific defense on the wing - even Jason Hart played well!
That was a perfect Kings game, but not because of the result. It was the perfect example of how this team confounds its fans and followers. It was identical to the Seattle game in early December, except it was Bibby, Martin and Miller instead of Peja, Bonzi and Shareef. Or like the home game against the Nets before that, where the Kings ran away with it after losing three straight.
It's like 2004. Chris Webber came back, the team lost the division title, everyone thought the run was over. So what happened? The Kings took Dallas in seven and took Minnesota to seven. After that putrid end to the regular season - no one was on the same page, no one was willing to trust their teammates, no one had a sliver of confidence - Sacramento had absolutely no business getting one shot away from the Western Conference Finals. They should've went down in five or six in the first round, expediting some sort of rebuilding.
But no. They had to somehow immediately gel. They had to win a series they should've have and almost win a series they should've have been able to sniff. They prolonged our belief in them as a core - maybe for a couple weeks, maybe for a couple months. But it was do-or-die time for that group of guys, and they did it. They made (most of) us believers again.
Last night was the same story. The party was about to get broken up. The parents called - they were coming home from vacation a couple days early. The Kings panicked - they tried to get everyone out of their house as quick as possible. "Party over! Party over!" Kids were running out, the Kings were throwing empty beer cans into garbage bags with the adrenaline usually reserved for life-and-death situations. Everything was sped up and set to the tune of a Fall Out Boy song. The Kings opened up the door to the master bedroom - two 14-year-olds were making out. "Get out!" the Kings scream. Cut to the clock, on which the minutes are rolling by. The parents are getting off the freeway when they get pulled over by a cop. Broken taillight, or something. The process is a long one, the parents ride home delayed indefinitely. That's the opening the Kings need, and miraculously they pull it off. The last kids leave, the last beer can is in the trash - the house looks suspiciously perfect. Then, the parents come home. Crisis averted. The parents trust the Kings. The parents will give the Kings the benefit of the doubt next time they're going out of town. It's all good.
It's not all good, not by a longshot. Even with the win, the Kings are 5.5 back in the division and three games out of the eighth seed. Bonzi is still out another three weeks, Shareef is out at least a couple weeks and who knows what'll happen next with Peja (maybe he'll cut himself shaving?).
But for right now, considering all the dank darkness that clouds this franchise, a win like Tuesday's provide a glimmer, even a false sense of trust in the guys. I hope this time, though, that the glimmer doesn't ultimately disappoint.