Mike Bibby is right. Sadly, his statement is exactly what worries me.
The Kings should've been able to close that game out early Sunday night. They obviously have the talent and the gameplan needed to beat the Rockets by 15. Sure enough, they were up by 14 way early.
And it's not that the Rockets came back - they came back a few times. If the Kings could've made a push to get the lead up around 20 in the third - instead of letting it fall to one bucket - then, Brad and Bibby and Artest could've rested a bit instead of playing down to the last play. Shareef could've got a few more buckets. Same with Kevin. And Francisco. It's obvious we're going to need those guys in the playoffs, so it's important they get on track ASAP.
This team can beat anyone in the league. This team can also lose to anyone in the league. It's perfect that Bibby made that quote at the top of the post: He's the perfect example. He can be one of the best players in the league - a sure-shot, a slasher who can get to the line on any given possession, a guy who will take the ball in the biggest moments of a game and make the perfect play. He's also a guy who wasn't a leader when he said he would be, a guy who doesn't always fit through screens or even pretend to play defense, a guy who concerns himself more with the referee and his fingernails than his head coach. Seventy-five percent of defense is effort and at least half of leadership is will. Bibby has shown he can offer both. He's also refused to offer both when the team needed them the most in November, December and January.
It's the same story with the entire team. Brad Miller could seriously be a top three center in the league - few 7-footers can shoot like him, no 7-footers can pass like him, only a handful of 7-footers can drive to the hoop like him. Jerry Reynolds said during the game Sunday that what Miller lacks in athleticism he makes up for in smarts and skill. That's a great description. But then, how can Miller throw up only three points against the defending World Champions on only four shots? How does it not consistently use his smarts and skill to eke out a few more defensive rebounds, or some stiffer defense against the Kwame Browns and Jerome Jameses of the league?
Ron Artest, one of three best two-way players in the league. Unstable mentally, by all accounts. As such, instead of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Star, he's done each once. Kenny Thomas, who could've been a sixth man of the year candidate. Let his misplaced pride get in the way, and became the least productive good player possibly in the history of the Kings. Until, of course, destiny opened the door and he turned it on. And there's little question how Kenny would act if Shareef found himself back in the starting lineup.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, probably the best embodiment of misutilized talent in the league. One win away from his first winning season in the NBA, he's coming off the bench. He's probably the second most talented player on the roster, yet someone else's selfishness/assertiveness has stuck Reef on the pine. Bonzi Wells, the toughest two-guard in the country. Has been known to blow up in the past, leaving a question mark over his head. Even the young careers of Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia show signs of unfulfilled potential - Martin can't get a fair shake behind Bonzi even though he was the hottest shooter in the league for two months, Garcia was well on his way to consistent, VALUABLE rookie rotation player to the injured list because he's too excited, too eager to be a valuable guy, too active.
Rick Adelman is more or less the coach that fully embodies the notion of underachievement. Look at all the great rosters he's coached. Not one ring? It's impossible.
The perfect equation for all this is for the Kings to win the championship this season. You know, Bibby being the leader for the whole run. Miller scoring 20 per. Artest shutting down the opponents' best player consistently. Something happening to switch Reef and Kenny, with Reef being a dominating force inside and Kenny being a consistent threat off the bench. Bonzi keeping his cool and doing what he does on the court. Kevin hitting big shots, Francisco getting big stops. Rick getting the big wins.
It'd be the best story of redemption in the history of sports. I can't wait to see it.
But can they beat their own individual and collective demons? Can they put teams, like Sunday's Rockets, away when they see blood? Can they stay focused enough on defense, in the offense, in the huddle, in the club on off nights, in the locker room? Can they all be everything they should be, all together?
Within the next two months, we'll find out the answer.