SALT LAKE CITY -- John Stockton and Jason Williams are products of different generations, different basketball upbringings, even different sides of the country.
Their games couldn't be more different and neither could their off-the-court reputations. Yet when the Jazz and the Kings begin a first-round playoff series Saturday, all eyes will be focused on the matchup between the past and future of NBA point guards.
"That should be fun to watch," Utah forward Bryon Russell said. "You know which way I think it'll go, but that's a good battle."
Stockton and Williams downplay the matchup's importance, but both teams need their floor leaders at the top of their well-known games. Stockton is the key to Utah's businesslike approach, while Sacramento's high-flying offensive show revolves around Williams.
"He's an excellent player, but he and I aren't going to play a game of 1-on-1," Stockton said. "It's a team game, and both of us are relying on the rest of our guys to help us out."
Stockton is a 37-year-old veteran who has remained a star at point guard longer than any player in league history. Williams is 23, almost old by NBA rookie standards but a generation younger than his counterpart.
"You play the game a different way if you came up when John and I did," Karl Malone said. "We grew up with strong coaches and different players to look up to than the guys do now. It's a very different time, and you can see that when John plays some of the younger kids."
Williams is the prototypical street ball player gone mainstream, while Stockton has based his career on organized, methodical consistency. Stockton never throws a behind-the-back, no-look crowd-pleaser when a simple chest pass will do, while Williams embraces showmanship and daredevil play, much to the delight of Kings fans.
"That's the way I grew up playing, and it works for me," Williams said. "I can't change my game because of the opponent. I have to play hard and play it my way."
Both pursued their basketball dreams fanatically. Williams' father had keys to a high school gym in West Virginia where Jason played for hours every day. Stockton spent so much time in the Gonzaga University gym in Spokane that the school made him his own key.
But Stockton is a former altar boy with a wife and five children in the NBA's most straitlaced city. Williams has twice been busted for testing positive for marijuana, and he bounced through two college programs before being kicked out of Florida and essentially having no choice but to head for the NBA.
"I don't think you see a lot of John in him (Williams), and vice versa," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "But they're both very effective at what they do."
Williams started all 50 games for the Kings this year, and he was a main reason the Kings evolved from perennial also-rans into the league's highest-scoring team -- and one of its most exciting. He averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 assists per game while shooting just 37 percent.
Stockton had a quietly solid season, playing just 28 minutes per game during the manic schedule. He averaged 11.1 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 49 percent, the only guard in the league's top 25 in the category.
"I treat it as just another game against another team," Williams said. "He's a great player, but in this league you have to face a great player every night."
Malone's matchup with Chris Webber could be even more important to the outcome of the series. Sloan said Friday that Malone will likely guard the taller, thinner Sacramento star, who won his first league rebounding title this season and led the Kings to their second playoff berth in 13 years.
"There's a mindset that these are the Kings of old, but they're not," Malone said. "Webber makes them a good team, Williams makes them a good team. ... They've got as much talent as anybody out there."
Webber, the first player in five years to average better than 20 points and 13 rebounds in a season, appears recovered from the back injury that caused him to miss five of the Kings' final six regular-season games.
He practiced at full strength on Thursday and worked out Friday before Sacramento's late flight to Utah.
"I think Chris will be all right," Kings coach Rick Adelman said Thursday. "We need him in the lineup to be successful, and he obviously wants to participate in the playoffs."
Jeff Hornacek's perpetually swollen knee is Utah's only health concern.
"It's not going to get any better until the season's over, but it's not getting any worse," Hornacek said. "You just deal with it."
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