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NBA Preview: KIngs
NBA Preview: Kings
Find three pieces of scrap paper. Write "Sacramento Kings" on one, "Los Angeles Clippers" on another and "Los Angeles Lakers" on the third.
Place them in a hat. Pick them out one a time.
There's your order for second, third and fourth place in the Pacific Division this year.
The three teams finished within three games of each other last season and appear equally close in 2006-07. But it might be wise to take the odds that the inclusion of Ron Artest from the start will push the Kings over the edge.
Unless, of course, Artest goes over the edge.
The immensely talented small forward will take some of the offensive load off point guard Mike Bibby, who averaged 21 points a game a year ago, but will now be freed up to display his ability to break down defenses and dish off for easy baskets. Brad Miller didn't have his best season in 2005-06, but he's still one of the top five all-around centers in the NBA and is among its premier passing big men.
Few teams can boast a talent such as Shareef Abdur-Rahim off the bench, but the Kings must show they have enough depth to compete with the best in the Western Conference.
Eric Musselman takes over for highly successful longtime coach Rick Adelman. The former brings an intensity the latter simply didn't have in his personality. But it remains to be seen if that translates into more victories.
Key additions: G John Salmons, C Loren Woods
Key subtractions: G Bonzi Wells
Sportsbook odds: WagerWeb.com ranks Sacramento a tad lower than both Los Angeles teams. The Kings are a +3000 (30-1) to win it all.
Player to watch: A leaky defense has prevented the Kings from evolving into a championship team throughout their long, strong run. A healthy Artest, both physically and emotionally, should change that. Sacramento surrendered six fewer points a game after his addition in late January and was again one of the best teams in the Western Conference down the stretch. Artest might have problems with the "no whine" rule in the NBA this season, but he brings an intensity and defensive toughness to a team that had been lacking in both. And when he's on, he can be deadly close to the basket. If he stays healthy and controls his temper, don't bet against a 50-win season for the Kings.
Outlook: The Kings will be dependent on core players such as Bibby, Artest, Miller and Abdur-Rahim to thrive. Starting power forward Kenny Thomas is adequate, but Kevin Martin isn't one of the more prolific shooting guards in the NBA. The loss of Wells certainly hurts offensively and will not be filled by the acquisition of John Salmons. The Kings don't boast enough depth to compete for a title, but they have enough talent to take second in the Pacific. Artest will help offensively and could transform the Kings into a far superior defensive team. Musselman is the type of coach to make certain that happens.
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