Originally created 05/04/02

Mavs, Kings changing the game in high-octane playoff series



SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The NBA's future might be on display in the Mavericks-Kings playoff series.

When Dallas meets Sacramento on Saturday in a tantalizing matchup of the NBA's highest-scoring teams, everyone expects to see entertaining basketball and a peek at a style of hoops more teams will emulate.

"This is great basketball," said Steve Nash, the Mavs' All-Star point guard. "I think getting up and down and running is the essence of the sport. It's kind of got bogged down recently, and that's unfortunate. The beauty of this game is to get out and run and to move the ball and shoot the ball and take shots.

"We've got away from that in the NBA. Hopefully, there's a lot more shooters and skill players coming along, and we can see some of this athleticism and skill come together. It really makes for an exciting, aesthetically pleasing game."

This Western Conference semifinal pits two teams that overcame decades of mediocrity with similar blueprints. As directed by innovative coaches Don Nelson and Rick Adelman, both teams prefer to push the ball, then shoot from everywhere on the court.

"I really can't see a shot clock being used in these games," Dallas' Nick Van Exel said.

And for the players, this style is just as much fun to play as it is to watch. When Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley asked Mike Bibby where he would prefer to be traded last summer, Bibby immediately chose Sacramento.

"There are guys around the league who would love to play on our team or on Dallas," Bibby said. "This is the most fun you can have in basketball. This is how you play when you're a kid. It's the most exciting for the fans, too."

But there's more to the Kings and the Mavs than flash-and-dash. Everyone from NBA commissioner David Stern to 19-year-old Kings rookie Gerald Wallace believes the style on display in this series represents the future of the professional game.

According to the teams, there are several factors in the evolution of their styles:

-Last summer's defensive rule changes, which allowed the zone defenses that essentially prevent teams from exclusively running boring isolation plays;

-Longer, leaner, more athletic players entering the league every year;

-The growing prominence of European players like Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic, many of whom like a more freewheeling game;

-The increasing number of teen-age stars still close to their playground roots and lacking the discipline ingrained by four years of college.

It all adds up to a game oriented around speed, shooting and style - and these two teams have proved it works. This season, Sacramento and Dallas turned their up-tempo games into big success, while other teams such as the Clippers began using game plans that make the most of their players' athleticism.

"If both teams hold to form, we're going to be up and down the court," Kings forward Scot Pollard said. "There will be a lot of crazy passes, a lot of points and a lot of good stuff. I think we play basketball the way it was meant to be played, and I think they're right up there in that regard."

The Kings and the Mavs surged to two of the NBA's top four records this season despite having marginal low-post offenses and only two conventional centers (Vlade Divac and Shawn Bradley) between them. Given the way success has consistently inspired imitation in basketball, Nelson thinks other teams are certain to follow their example.

"I think it's headed in that direction," Nelson said. "I think it's going to take some teams a little longer to get the new kind of more of an all-around player. There are some guys that don't fit in as well as they did two years ago."

The league's top two scoring teams haven't met in the playoffs since 1997, when Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz - and those teams didn't fill the basket the way Dallas and Sacramento do.

The Jazz lost to the Kings in four games in the first round despite forcing Sacramento to slow its powerful offense. The Mavs, who roared past Minnesota, say they wouldn't dream of using any slowdown strategies in the semifinals.