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The Artest Era Comes Down to This

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It's amazing how quickly a season can turn around.

It's likely none of us will soon forget January 24 and January 25 - The Trade. It surpassed the first and second Webber trades in terms of heartwrenching uncertainty, and by late March had finally passed Webber trade #1 as far as hopefulness goes. Mix with that how freaking crazy it was for two days and how it's been the past week, as the media insists on reminding us of "Old Artest."

With the Kings now down 2-0, on the back of the most unlikely of shots, the young era that began in January is on trial. Had Brent Barry missed, it might a different story - the Kings were fully in it, having stolen homecourt advantage from the Spurs. During the Artest era (though the man in question sat in a hotel room), the Kings beat the Spurs in San Antonio in the playoffs. A statement, of sorts, that the risk was worth it.

But alas, rubber bounces off steel and glass and occasionally some funny hops. Oh well. All is not lost - the era can survive. But only if the Kings make that statement they were so preciously close to screaming Tuesday night.

And they have to make it tonight. Going down 3-0 and winning a mostly meaningless Sunday affair does nothing. No sting subsides, no dignity replenished. Nothing. Without winning tonight, the season and possibly the era is over.

Should it come down to this? Over 40 games, Artest - and Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs and really the whole forced-to-adapt team, notably Mike Bibby - proved their worth to the franchise and the city. From the dregs, they came into the playoffs with not only a chance, but a swagger that had the fanbase rallying. On Saturday's Game 1 pre-tipoff show on KHTK, Jim Crandall had difficulty finding callers who didn't think the Kings were going to take it in six or seven. I thought I was one of just a few crazies who thought maybe, just maybe, there was a chance. I was wrong - everyone drank Ron-Ron's Kool-Aid, and it tasted plenty good going down.

But after going down 2-0, it's not good enough. If you can't beat the Spurs now, after going on this amazing roll and facing a gimpy Tim Duncan, it's not going to happen next season. Like Chris Webber's ticking timebomb of a knee was deemed a nonbeneficial hazard last season, Ron Artest's ticking timebomb temper looks like it will just as nonbeneficial to the team's future and plenty hazardous in the trade market.

If the Kings can win tonight to keep the blood flowing to their championship dream's heart, then the Artest era gets a pardon. But Sunday's the same game - 3-1 is over, 2-2 is a whole new ballgame. If the Kings can make the Spurs play six - whether Sacramento moves on or not - the era is salvaged. "This team can run with the Spurs," we'll say. "With a full season of chemistry-building and an improved bench, we can beat the Spurs." Whether it's true or not at that point is anyone's guess. None of us know, or else we might be GMs in the NBA or something.

The symbolism placed on a single moment in sports is really overwhelming at times. It's cliche to say, but a fraction of an inch and a fraction of a second sometimes make all the difference the world - between heros and chokers, between the ecstacy of celebration and the painful throes of defeat, between hope and resignation.

But you go to war with the burdensome minusculity of decisive moments in athletic competition that you have. As we will tonight. Let's go Kings.