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News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

January 17, 2008
Hockey, hoops and taking the "I" out of "Kings"

DETROIT - The Kings need to go to a hockey game.
That's the conclusion I came to on Thursday night, after the thrilling overtime affair between Detroit and Vancouver at Joe Louis Arena was over and the differences between the NHL and the NBA were so glaringly obvious.
First, though, I never noticed the many similarities between hoops and hockey, from the ball/puck movement that is so vital to offensive production to the value of transition defense and the importance of limiting turnovers that open the door to playing on your heels - whether that's in tennies or skates. Angles and sheer physics, especially, are the end-all, be-all on the ice and - at least among the NBA's more effective teams - the court as well. It's obvious what are good shots and what aren't, with high-percentage looks preferred but certain players able to bury attempts in the net from long range. And defense of the toughest kind, clearly, is not optional.
But one major difference got me thinking about where the Kings could benefit: the ego-factor. With hockey guys, you may as well not have names on the backs of the jerseys. Sure, there are Sidney Crosbys out there, and the Steve Yzermans of yesteryear and Wayne Gretzkys, Mark Messiers and on and on. But for the most part, the cheesy line about the name on the front of the jersey mattering more than the name on the back seems to actually fit. That's not so much the case on the hardwood, where my sense is that most players around the league only completely buy in to the team concept if there's a high likelihood of collective success. Anything remotely resembling a lack of hope, and each player's vision becomes about their own big picture and what's next in their individual career.
This topic of all-for-one-and-one-for-all was discussed after the Kings loss at Toronto on Wednesday, where the return of Mike Bibby and Ron Artest brought back the same old question of whether this group can have chemistry as a unit.
Despite the loss, the message coming out of the locker room was the right tone in terms of what it will take to work. But in a culture that is so geared toward the star-driven NBA system, walking the walk after talking the talk will be tougher.
"Everybody has to give a little to gain a little for the team," Kevin Martin said. "We’ve just got to keep on working with these adjustments. Some guys have got to give up minutes, and some guys have got to give up shots. That might be best for the team, but we just have to do that."
Martin was asked if he felt everyone in the locker room was thinking that way.
"I think we are," he said. "Today is new for everybody. Guys have different mindsets, so it’s one of those periods for everybody."
Bibby, who cared little about his stellar invidual outing in light of the loss, said the "hard-headed" personalities of the Kings' core players involved here makes it a tricky mix.
"We're all guys who feel like we can do it," Bibby said.
As in do it alone, not in any sort of collective arm-in-arm kind of manner. Problem is, it just doesn't work that way. Without chemistry, these guys go nowhere. With it, they could be interesting.
And clearly, it's time for the Kings to head to a Sharks game when they get home.

***

Not only is the NHL not the sport I cover, it's not even close to the top of my personal favorites list. Thus, it came as no surprise that I was able to run into the coach of the one of the league's premier teams and not have the slighest clue who he was.
Instructed by a security guard to head down a hallway and take a left, I veered right when a door just looked like the entrance to the locker room for postgame interviews. Lo and behold, it was the VIP room where Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and his cohorts were chatting about their big win.
I received a look not all that different from this one... (from Babcock in the back, not wingman Aaron Downey and his "Do you smell what The Rock is cookin'?!" stare)

Babcock.jpg

...at which point Babcock grinned and instructed the security guard to show me the way once again.
While apologizing for a second time on my way out, the guard tells me that Babcock "just bit my (butt) for letting you go in there." Whoops...

Random thoughts from a new kind of locker room...

* Someone needs to hang a few hundred of those little tree air fresheners in here. Either that or my synapses are recanting those long-ago days of high school football.

* When the Red Wings win, they rock (insert band name here) on the jukebox?

A. Kid Rock (because, of course, he's the unofficial mayor of Motor City)

B. The Zambonis (yes, it's an actual band)

C. Coldplay (Get it?)

D. Soulja Boy (Could the NBA and NHL have something in common?)

The answer: Aha! It actually is Coldplay, although I can't remember which song.


* Speaking of Hasek, the legendary Red Wings goalie is about to turn 43 and he looks every bit his age.

Hasek.jpg


Can't say I ever imagined being part of a media scrum in which the star of the night had more gray hairs than the coach. Clearly, though, he's still going strong.

* Downey is now my first favorite NHL player.
While getting a closer look at the action from a front-row seat at center ice, Downey pummeled an unexpecting Canucks player and provided the sort of moment that makes people say that hockey is best enjoyed live. Nearly $20 in beer that belonged to the folks next to me was nearly wasted upon impact (for the record, that's two beers), but they managed to see the trainwreck coming and grab the brews off the rail before the collision.

* Sat next to a couple that couldn't have been nicer or more pure Michiganer.
Husband and wife both worked at GM, both hated Michael Moore and urged me to skip out on tonight's Pistons-Kings game to hit tonight's North American International Auto Show. I forgot to ask their take on local boy Chris Webber.
- Sam Amick



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