KINGS 114, DENVER 106
It would have been a good night to have a clone.
A Kings win meant a trip to the Kings locker room was a must, which is the case even after most losses. But from chatting with The Denver Post's Chris Dempsey afterward, it sounds as if a visit to the visitor's locker room would have been far more interesting.
The woe traded sides for a night, as the depressed Denver Nuggets finally woke up and realized how much of a must-win that game was right about the time it was over.
"We have to know how important these games are," said Denver point guard Chauncey Billups, who had 22 points and eight assists. "These are the games you look at at the end of the year and say, 'Man, if we could have just taken care of business in that game, we could have had home court (advantage).' I don't think we really understand the importance of these games."
The Kings weren't the Kings in three areas: defensively (42.4 percent shooting from Nuggets), three-point efficiency (season-high tying 14 on 29 attempts from team that averages 6.7 threes per game, 48.2 percent from beyond the arc from team that averages 36 percent), and turnovers (11 total - two in first half - from team that averages 15.8).
Spencer Hawes set the early long-range tone with his two quick threes, not to mention helping his own campaign at the same time. When it comes to Hawes, there is always a split camp in regards to how he should be used. Surely no one enjoyed it more than Kings consultant Pete Carril, who has been telling Hawes to not be afraid to shoot from long-range.
"The easiest way to get people to stop telling you to shoot those shots," Carril said to Hawes, "is to start making them again."
When I asked Hawes about that exchange, he smiled with delight.
"That's one of the things 'Coachie' and I have been working on," Hawes said. "I remember when I was shooting threes in grade school when they didn't even count as threes just to prove I could do it, so I don't think I'm going to stop shooting them anytime soon."
Yet no one hit the three-ball like Kevin Martin, as his four-of-five outing from beyond the arc served as the backbreaker in the upset. And oh by the way, his three-point percentage (43.5) is by far a career-high (40.2 was high from last season) and is 12th in the league. His points per game (24.1) would be seventh in the league, but his 22-game absence means he doesn't yet qualify. What's more, he bounced back from a zero-dimensional game against Indiana on Tuesday (21 points on 3 of 12 shooting, no assists, one rebound) to have big-time impact in a balanced way (26 points, eight assists, seven rebounds).
Last but not least, Andres Nocioni was huge. Even if his shot wasn't falling (and it was, as he hit 10 of 17 for 23 points), the added physical presence over Francisco Garcia (terrific toughness and all, they don't call him 'Flaco' because he's a bruiser) is a boon to a lineup that so badly needs it. - Sam Amick