MILWAUKEE 106, KINGS 104
CHICAGO - If the Kings are complaining about this travel schedule - and they are - then I will too.
A Milwaukee-Toronto back-to-back is one thing, but this is another. This is a 7:30 tipoff followed by a 6 p.m. tipoff, which is worse than it sounds because there's an hour lost in the Time Zone shuffle as well. And for scribes like myself, it's even worse. Sometimes, as in tonight, you have to drive from Milwaukee to Chicago just to find a nonstop flight that gets you through customs and into Toronto on time.
It doesn't stop there, either. Sometimes you pound away on a blog about Kevin Martin and whether he is shying away from late-game-winning or game-tying shots, only to have your laptop crash and a few hundred words disappear and then it just gets ugly when it's 3 a.m. local time. So unfortunately, it's the Cliff Notes now.
Many fans are wondering if Martin flourishes or folds in crunch-time, which is a natural question to ask since he's the closest thing this organization has to a centerpiece. The question popped up again because of the last two games, as he has deferred on the final shot against Washington and Milwaukee. Tonight it was a play drawn up for him up top, with Martin getting doubled (almost tripled) and dishing to Brad Miller for a shot that's considered in his wheelhouse. It clanks. Kings lose. The Martin question returns anew.
In truth, this should be a short discussion anyways because it was just last week that Martin was forcing all three overtimes with clutch shots against Golden State. And it's been a long time (more than two months) since he was making the extra pass to Quincy Douby in that mid-November Phoenix game that pushed the envelope on the whole making-the-right-play argument.
But after this one, here's how it was viewed by Kings coach Kenny Natt and Martin himself.
Natt: "The play materialized just as I drew it up, for Kevin to come up and get the ball. But Kevin obviously got doubled, and that left Brad open. So Kevin made the right decision to go ahead and make that pass to Brad. Unfortunately, he didn't hit it, but I thought that was the look. At least we executed it the way it was drawn up.
On whether he'd like to see Martin seek game-winner type shots more often...
"I think he's making the right basketball plays. If you're being doubled, the right thing to do is to try and make the pass to an open player and your teammates. Those are the situations when great players do. Instead of forcing a bad shot, they pass it to the open player, so I was impressed with that."
Martin: "I got doubled coming off, so I wanted to see if I had something - a two or a three. Obviously I was trying to go for the win, but his guy came and doubled and I just gave him a little bounce pass.
On whether he was tempted to take the shot himself...
"They always tell me it's best to make the right play. You've always got to make the right play. There's times where I do want to get it up, but when there's two or three guys running at me, I'm not going to take a contested jumper."
The more pressing issue with Martin, by far, is his defense (which is adeptly discussed by Marty Mac in his latest column). And while he has certainly never been known as a good defender, I remain convinced that his left ankle continues to hinder his ability to keep up on that end.
Watching him tonight was like watching people on those moving walkways in airports. The people in both lanes are moving, obviously, but one is walking and the other isn't and so there's a blow-by effect at play. Already convinced (for a number of credible reasons) that he probably won't be physically right all year long, I watched his movement closesly. Specifically, his lateral movement was awful. And it truly didn't seem to be an effort thing but more of a lack-of-quickness thing. Martin was fighting hard early to fight through screens and keep up with Michael Redd before he went out with a serious left knee injury. And this, of course, is a player who is as quick as they come in the entire league, so you do the math.
Martin refuses to talk about his ankle, and has stuck to his promise that any questions about it will be met with an assurance that he's fine. When I told him his lack of lateral movement was pretty obvious, he gave an evasive grin and said, "I'm all right."
No. 2 on the Martin priority list should be his turnover problem, as he had six against Milwaukee and is averaging 3.2 per game in the 13 games since he returned on Dec. 30. No. 3, on this night, would be the part about contributing in other ways beyond scoring, as he had just one assist and one rebound in 40 minutes.
Anyhow, Canada calls and that's a wrap from the Windy City (which was negative-five degrees upon hotel check-in time, for those who wondered). - Sam Amick