Kings Blog and Q&A

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

January 5, 2009
Opening tip: Kenny Natt has already made his lineup changes

Kings (8-26) at Nets (16-18)

Scoring: Kings 21st (96.4), Nets 12th (99.4).
Shooting: Kings tied for 19th (44.4 percent), Nets tied for 26th (43.7).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.6), Nets 23rd (102).
Shooting defense: Kings 28th (47.6 percent), Nets 23rd (46.3).
Rebound differential: Kings 27th (minus-3.1), Nets 13th (plus-0.5).

The links: Nets coverage in the Newark Star-Ledger, New York Post, New York Daily News and New York Times.
The almanac: On this date in 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors began a streak of 47 consecutive games of playing all 48 minutes, a record. On this date in 1988, Pete Maravich died at the age of 40 after suffering a heart attack while playing in a pick-up game. On this date in 2001, Tim Thomas of the Bucks made eight three-pointers in the second half, breaking the record of seven three-pointers in one half shared by 10 players.


Let's do it the coach-speak way. It's not who starts, it's who finishes. ("I need to look at the tape" and "We've just got to play our game" will be saved for another day.)

Love the Kenny Natt logic in the paper today that Kevin Martin is better as a reserve because the Kings need the energy off the bench. Imagine the number of coaches around the league kicking themselves right now for having their best player start and deliver energy from the outset. You'd think the coach of the team that has been outscored in six of the last eight first quarters would be worried about energy at the opening tip, but, OK.

That's fine. Martin has played 31, 34 and 37 minutes in the three games since returning from an ankle injury, ramping up the minutes with each night, so this is about labels. Martin is obviously one of Natt's trusted players.

Beno Udrih is not. Still a starter, as Natt told Melody Gutierrez. But not on the court at the end of close games, in a statement of another kind.

Natt may be worried Udrih will go permanently south with the smack of losing the job. Udrih has a long history of issues with a fragile resolve. There could be some stroking going on, not wanting to crush the guy and lose him so soon into the five-year, $32.3 million investment. So they let him keep the label.

One game could be about matchups, who has a hot hand, sometimes the extenuating circumstances of foul trouble or the starter being gassed on the second night of a back-to-back or a guy fighting the flu. Stuff happens. Udrih picked up two fouls the opening 2:26 Saturday at Indiana and his third early in the second quarter. Playing 12 minutes in all isn't necessarily a shocking outcome given that beginning.

But get into two games and three games and you've got a trend, and the trend with the Kings is that the official starting lineup is not the lineup Natt likes best.

The three games are meaningful because each went down to the final minute and were against contrasting teams -- the underachieving Clippers, the deliberate Pistons with defenders and poor rebounders, the Pacers playing faster and a factor on the boards but no defense. Also the three games since Martin came back.

The official starting lineup:
PG -- Udrih.
SG -- Francisco Garcia.
SF -- John Salmons.
PF -- Mikki Moore.
C -- Brad Miller.

The lineup Natt relied on most:

PG -- Bobby Jackson (five, eight and 12 minutes in the fourth quarters), backed up by Bobby Brown, followed by Udrih. Beno actually played a combined three minutes more than Brown, but Brown was the only one to see the final three minutes of a game.

SG -- Martin. Undisputed. Ramping up to starter's minutes in general and a consistently prominent role in the fourth quarter in particular.

SF -- Salmons. With Garcia remaining at the forefront of the rotation as well, here and at shooting guard.

PF -- Jason Thompson. Pretty much by default, with 12 minutes in the final period against the Clippers but just four and five minutes the other two. Moore mostly started the fourth, which says something, but got an early hook. Natt had been going small a lot, so both Thompson and Moore get left behind.

C -- Miller. Undisputed. Twelve, nine and eight minutes, with good rebounding numbers to support Natt's commitment.

A few things. The absence of Spencer Hawes for all three, thanks to a strained abdominal muscle, obviously alters the rotation. But Miller and Thompson, and Moore to an extent, have done well on the boards. And if Natt is using seven players in the fourth quarter when it's the second night of a back-to-back, that's a tightening rotation.

Udrih was on the bench the final 3:02 of the eventual two-point win over the Clippers, for the final 6:47 of the six-point loss to the Pistons and 17:16 of the five-point loss to the Pacers. In close games, the Kings are keeping their starting point guard on the bench.

Natt, explaining after the Indiana game why Udrih wasn't at the controls: "Not doing his job, that's one way of putting it. Not playing with the intensity and the effort that I know and we all thought he would do and he did last year. So, that's a challenge for him. ... Beno is our point guard, but we are having to play other guys out of position and that's not a good thing for us."

Reaction 1: "Beno is our point guard." Doesn't sound like a coach on the verge of making a switch. Natt reinforced that in the paper today.

Reaction 2: If Natt rates Udrih's effort level at less than 100 percent for an extended stretch, it's inexcusable to not make a switch. Beno hasn't earned any slack. He's not a proven veteran coming off a long playoff run and conserving energy for the upcoming postseason. He's not taking it slow while coming off a serious injury.

Bottom line: Natt's starting lineup is a symbolic thing. His distribution of fourth-quarter minutes in three consecutive close games, each decided in the final 60 seconds, is tangible and telling.

Some lineup change has to come at some stage, even if not tonight. Martin for Garcia, though not as a slap at Garcia, or maybe Martin, Garcia and Salmons are all in and Moore sits as the Kings go small. (Tonight's opponent, the Nets, start 6-11 Yi Jianlian at power forward, but Yi is hardly physically imposing.) Martin is in somewhere, though, Salmons is staying and Miller is staying.

That leaves one position. Point guard. Maybe Natt keeps hoping tough love will pay off. Maybe he does Jackson for Udrih. Or maybe it doesn't matter much because Natt will play his actual No. 1 lineup down the stretch.

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