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GAME 14 - at Dallas

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After a fairly successful first month of the season, we find our team in a precarious spot: downtown Dallas.

The Kings have one win at Dallas since 2003, and that was a 2004 playoff victory when the Mavericks were already down 2-0 and facing a Sacramento team that was starting to "get it" after Chris Webber's disastrous spring comeback sent MVP candidate Peja Stojakovic and All-NBA team contender Brad Miller reeling.

It hasn't been a house of horrors exactly, and the Kings have fared pretty well in ARCO against the Mavs. No team wants to visit Dallas these days, though, and the Kings are no exception.

What makes Dallas hard to handle? Well, Dirk Nowitzki, mainly. Dude is on top of the early season PER rankings by no small margin. You know the semi-big deal being made about Kevin Martin averaging 20+ points, with a 50% field goal percentage, a 90% free throw percentage, and a 40% 3-point percentage - only ever done by Larry Bird? Well, Dirk is only short in the 3-point shooting category, where he's hitting 38%. (Martin is at a seemingly ridiculous 47%, and trails Dirk's PPG only slightly.) As much as a huge Martin mark as I am (and you all know this), I think I'd bet on Dirk matching the Larry Legend mark before our Speedracer.

When you have a preeminent MVP candidate, one of the best players in the league, you're going to win some games. And that's all the Mavs have done since their rocky start, rattling off 11 straight coming into tonight.

What's the best way to play Dirk? Well, if I knew, I might have a job in the NBA. But judging from past viewings and some game logs, controlling him early seems to keep him check. He's not like most premier scorers in that he'll keep gunning and gunning to get his line. If he's not feeling it, he'll defer. Luckily for Dallas, he can contribute when he's not scoring - he's the team's best rebounder and a decent defender against similarly sized players.

A key to how Sacramento fares will be how well Ron Artest or Kenny Thomas can defend Dirk early on.

Josh Howard and Jason Terry are nice players, but they can't beat good teams all alone. Devin Harris might run rampant on Mike Bibby, though, so nothing is guaranteed, even if Dirk is largely taken out of the offense.

Martin shouldn't face the same struggles he did Tuesday. Dallas has a good-to-very-good defender in Josh Howard, but the smart money would think he'd mark Artest as Jason Terry isn't big enough to handle Martin, let alone Ron-Ron. Avery Johnson could go to a smaller lineup in Bibby and Martin cause too many problems, as Brad Miller still isn't expected to start.

It should be a game of matchups. Let's hope ours get the best of theirs. That's what sports comes down to, right? All the usual stuff can be found by clicking "Read More..."




STARTERS:

SACRAMENTO
PG - We thought Mike Bibby was back after his nice games against Detroit, Toronto, and Memphis. Since then, he's shot 27 for 87, or 31%. Eep.
SG - If you don't think Kevin Martin is counting the seconds until his first matchup with Kobe Bryant, you don't know Kevin Martin.
SF - Ron Artest has taken 197 shots in 455 minutes this season, while his friend at shooting guard has taken 184 shots in 480 minutes.
PF - Out of 13 games, Kenny Thomas has scored double-digit points three times. He has scored triple-digit points no times.
C  - I don't like to jump to conclusions, but the last three games for Shareef Abdur-Rahim? 32 minutes, 28 minutes, 20 minutes. I smell a trend.

DALLAS
PG - Devin Harris has facial expressions not dissimilar to those of early 1990s Kermit the Frog.
SG - The question of Jason Terry's contract versus Mike Bibby's contract is an interesting one, though one I'm not prepared to discuss right now.
SF - Josh Howard is really a distant third in current NBA Demon Deacons ladder, which says quite a bit about Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. He's also third all-time on this list. Rodney Rogers and Muggsey Bogues are battling for fourth.
PF - We really argued that Peja Stojakovic was better than Dirk Nowitzki at one point, didn't we?
C  - Erick Dampier is a thorn in mankind's side.


THE LINE:
Dallas is a 7-point favorite. I've been contemplating this all day. It's either going to be a nailbiter (which is what we should be praying for) or a Dallas blowout. Sadly, my brain tells me Dallas going away. I pick Dallas, laying the points. I'm 3-7 on the year.

INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT NOTE: The Kings are undefeated on ESPN this season. Aw yeah, 1-0.

PRE-GAME HAIKU:
Dallas, back on top
after a hideous start.
Will the Mavs roll on?
(Yes, these are getting progressively worse.)

PARTING SHOT:
I pray no accidents occur as folks rush home from work to catch the tilt. Patience, people! The 5:30 tip will occur at both ESPN and Comcast. Let's do it!