Their defense, the Dallas Mavericks insisted, had improved over the last 12 months. They said they’d matured since last spring. They were more confident. And this time they held the home-court advantage.
None of it mattered Tuesday night in the American Airlines Center, where the Sacramento Kings torched the Mavericks, 124-113, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
On the bright side, the Mavericks won’t have to worry about blowing a 3-0 lead in this series. They did that in the opening round against the Portland Trail Blazers before winning Game 7 on Sunday to avoid becoming the first team in NBA history to fritter away a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.
That earned them a second-round date with the Kings, who are favored by most experts to win the series even though the Mavericks’ franchise-best 60-22 regular-season record was one game better than the Kings’.
The Kings have won four of five against the Mavericks this season after winning three in a row last May to close out a five-game second-round series.
This time, they opened an early lead with a 12-0 run in the first quarter, led by 12 points at halftime and stretched their advantage to 28 points in the third quarter.
“What can I tell you about this game?” Maverick Coach Don Nelson said. “What a performance. They gave us a butt-kicking ... and basically just dominated us. I thought we would do better than that. It wasn’t lack of effort. It was just their execution and superior passing. They just put on a clinic. ...
“The fact that it ended up not a terrible score really was no indication of the game.
“We were totally dominated by them.”
The Kings’ All-Star forwards, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, combined for 50 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. Reserve guard Bobby Jackson scored 23 points in 27 minutes and Doug Christie had 13 points and nine rebounds.
“We executed both ends very well,” said Vlade Divac, who scored 14 points in only 15 minutes, making five of six shots. “It was beautiful to see us play like that.”
Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Nick Van Exel each scored 20 points for the Mavericks, but the sellout crowd of 20,525 had little to cheer.
The Kings were never challenged, making 55% of their shots.
“It’s hard to guard us,” Divac said. “The way we play is really unique. We all move the ball well, we all shoot well. So, one mistake and we’ll punish you.”
While the Mavericks were pushed to the limit by the Trail Blazers in the first round, the Kings sat around Sacramento after wrapping up a five-game series against the Utah Jazz last Wednesday.
Rather than make them stale, however, the layoff seemed to energize them.
“We were really focused and we were really ready to play, and you could feel it in the locker room,” Coach Rick Adelman said. “You never know until you step on the floor, but there was definitely a feeling that we were ready.”
And the Mavericks were not.
Regarding the Mavericks’ chances in Game 2 on Thursday night, Nelson said, “The bottom line is, we have to play better and they have to play worse.”