Pair of Kings With Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson sharing point guard duties, Sacramento holds a strong hand for its playoff showdown with Dallas

May 11, 2003

The Sacramento Kings are a finely tuned offensive machine that
depends on pick-and-roll precision, share-the-wealth ball
distribution and imperturbable decision-making. Their headiness
is due in no small part to their point guard Mike Bibby. ¶ The
Sacramento Kings are a stir-up-the-stew band of full-court
madmen--unpredictable, intense, prone to risk-taking on both
offense and defense. Their brashness is due in no small part to
their point guard Bobby Jackson. ¶ "When Mike's out there we
tend to be in our correct positions on the floor," says backup
center Scot Pollard, whose 6'11", 265-pound frame, Fu Manchu
mustache and thrift-shop wardrobe stamp him as a card-carrying
member of the Jackson-led second unit. "When Bobby's out there,
we're kind of running around like chickens with our heads cut
off. Mike's the perfect guy to lead the first team, and Bobby's
the perfect guy to lead the chickens."

So it is with a certain duality of style that Shaquille O'Neal's
favorite team--the Big Instigator has spent much time calling
Sacramento "the Queens" or just calling them out in
general--marches into the second round of the playoffs against
the awfully-glad-to-be-here Dallas Mavericks as, perhaps, the
team to beat.

"No, no, the Lakers are still the team to beat," said Sacramento
center Vlade Divac last week, after the Kings had dispatched the
Utah Jazz in five games. "And if San Antonio beats the Lakers
this round, then San Antonio is the team to beat because they
beat the Lakers." There is more than a hint of disingenuousness
in Divac's disclaimer. Sacramento believes it has been the NBA's
best team for the past two seasons and blames its loss to Los
Angeles in last year's Western Conference finals on bad calls in
Game 6 and an uncharacteristic crisis of confidence in Game 7. A
conquest of L.A., which has eliminated the Kings in the playoffs
for the last three seasons, is unquestionably on their to-do
list. "Beating the Lakers would be the missing piece," admits
Divac.

There's no guarantee, of course, that Sacramento will even get
that matchup, the Lakers having lost Game 1 of their conference
semifinal series with the Spurs 87-82 on Monday night. And in
Dallas the Kings face a team that may have found new energy after
Sunday's 107-95 Game 7 first-round win over the Portland Trail
Blazers, a victory that kept Mark Cuban's minions from becoming
the first team in NBA history to lose a series after going up
3-0. The Mavericks can't begin to match Sacramento's strength
inside, but they can score with anyone, and in Steve Nash and
Nick Van Exel, they have a point guard combination similar to the
Kings'.

Make no mistake, though: At this stage of the season Bibby-Bobby
is the superior duo. They are an interesting pair, close friends
despite their competition for minutes (Jackson, who last week won
the Sixth Man Award, will not admit that Bibby, a member of the
U.S. Olympic team, is better) and the difference in their ages
(Bibby is 24, Jackson 30). On the road they often head together
to the nearest mall to pick up CDs and a snack or two for Bibby,
who seems to consume food only slightly less often than he does
oxygen. Bibby and Jackson aren't likely to talk about their
fondness for each other, not on a team with players who, as Bibby
puts it, "crack on you for every single thing you do." But it's
there. "Yeah, he's O.K.," Jackson says of Bibby. "But I do wish
the boy would stop eating from time to time."

Their styles are different too. Bibby glides through games with a
graceful efficiency, making on-the-move adjustments that stamp
him as a John Stockton in the making. Jackson, by contrast,
exudes tenacity, the very quality that has enabled him to emerge
as leader of the best supporting cast this side of Chicago. He's
a stumpy 5'11" 185-pounder (never mind that 6'1" figure in the
Kings' media guide) who had to walk away from the temptations of
the street in his native Salisbury, N.C. (he says his mother,
Sarah, who died of cancer four months ago, prevented him from
selling crack cocaine as a 17-year-old); had to overcome the
embarrassment of his central role in the academic cheating
scandal at Minnesota; had to remain confident after being offered
a nonguaranteed contract by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2000;
and had to carve out a place on a guard-deep team that values
shooting even though he was considered a poor-shooting guard.
"The odds were against me making it here," Jackson says solemnly,
"but the odds have always been against me."

Not so for the 6'1" Bibby, whose basketball credentials--father
Henry was a UCLA All-America and is now USC's coach; Mike won an
NCAA championship as an Arizona freshman in 1997 and was the No.
2 pick in the '98 draft--were much in evidence during last year's
postseason. Bibby wasn't just the Kings' best player in their
agonizing loss to the Lakers; with his teammates' shooting touch
turned to stone and their insides to gelatin, he was pretty much
their only player. In fact Bibby set the bar so high in the
playoffs (he averaged 21.8 and 22.7 points against the Mavericks
and the Lakers, respectively) that his solid performance this
season (15.9 points, 5.2 assists) seemed disappointing, even to
him. Though he was streaky during the first round, Bibby was the
catalyst in a vital 99-82 Game 4 victory in Utah. Sacramento was
losing 43-37 early in the third quarter when he turned the game
around with this seven-minute sequence: assist, rebound, assist,
steal, assist, rebound, 20-foot jumper.

Jackson was his usual productive self against the Jazz (12.8
points per game, 4.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds). What he achieved
this year, particularly in the 26 games he started in place of an
injured Bibby early in the season, surprised many around the NBA,
considering that he was traded by the Seattle SuperSonics and the
Denver Nuggets and all but told to pound sand by the
Timberwolves, who favored Terrell Brandon and William Avery at
point guard. With Jackson at the point the Kings went 20-6; he
averaged 20.2 points on 50.3% shooting, with 4.5 rebounds, 4.0
assists and 1.58 steals. Jackson claimed the only adjustment he
made to his game as a starter was "slacking down a little bit" on
defense--i.e., toning down his relentless end-to-end
harassment--but his teammates saw another subtle difference.
"Bobby picked and chose his spots a little more," says shooting
guard Doug Christie, "and I think that showed him he can play
controlled for long periods."

Control is not usually what Jackson is about. "My game is to come
in and hit you with a lot of stuff," says Jackson. Increasingly
that stuff includes an accurate jumper. The Sacramento coaches
and players swear he has worked harder on his shooting than any
other player they've seen. "Everybody practices," says Bibby,
"but Bobby works." On daily, solitary trips to the Kings'
practice facility last summer, Jackson would shoot as many as
1,000 jumpers. His pregame routine was so enervating that earlier
this season, assistant coach Terry Porter ordered him to cut
back; Jackson now shoots until he makes five on-the-move jumpers
(instead of 10) from eight spots on the floor. Given Jackson's
46.4% shooting (37.9% from beyond the arc), it's no longer so
easy for Peja Stojakovic to get on him about his bricklaying, the
forward's retort when Jackson would ride him about his soft
"European defense."

Jackson was so effective during his starting stint that there was
speculation that coach Rick Adelman would reverse the roles when
Bibby's broken right foot healed. But Bobby went back to leading
the chickens. "I can't tell you why I'm not the starter," Jackson
says. "That's not my job. The Sacramento Kings are a great team
with two great point guards. I wouldn't be happy doing this on
any other team. We have a tremendous chance to win a
championship, so on this team it's O.K. for now."

What does "for now" mean? "I don't want to go nowhere," says
Jackson, "but I also know Mike is here for a long time. If it's
meant for me to be a starter here, then it will happen. But I
will be a starter in this league."

For all of Jackson's considerable confidence and other
on-the-court virtues, he is not better than Bibby. Jackson's
hell-bent style sometimes gets him into jams from which he cannot
extricate himself and which bog down the offense. Adelman is
loath to put a leash on him but will deliberately slow him down
by calling a play. Bibby's hoops IQ is so high that Adelman
trusts him implicitly. "Bobby might only see one or two options
on a play," says the coach, "but Mike sees every one there is to
see."

Bibby is a much better midrange shooter than Jackson, who admits
that he prefers to launch it from the arc or take it all the way
to the hoop. Sacramento's pick-and-roll offense is especially
effective because anyone who picks and rolls with Bibby (Chris
Webber, Stojakovic, backup Jimmy Jackson and even Divac) is
deadly from 17 to 22 feet. And though Jackson's aggressiveness is
conspicuous when he's leading the chickens, it's not as if Bibby
is a softy. Jackson manhandles his opponents, while Bibby picks
their pockets. When Adelman plays Bibby and Jackson together,
Bibby feels his energy and aggressiveness increase. "I don't mean
to say one lineup is better than another," he says, choosing his
words carefully for fear of criticizing starter Christie, "but
Bobby and I feed off each other, energywise."

The strongest link between the friends is that, at heart, both
are mama's boys. Because of Henry's peripatetic coaching career
he wasn't around much during Mike's youth, and the credit for
raising him belongs almost solely to his mother, Virginia. It's
only within the last year that father and son have begun talking,
and the relationship is still not strong. Bibby laughs loudly
when someone tells him how much he resembles his dad. He seems
pleased. But his face clouds when pressed further on the subject
of Henry, who played nine NBA seasons with four teams. Mike says
he doesn't expect his father will come to any playoff games. "He
doesn't like the attention when he shows up," says Bibby. And
that's that.

Bobby Jackson Sr. wasn't a big part of his son's life, either,
though they've recently started getting together--Bobby Sr. drove
from North Carolina to watch the Kings beat the Wizards 105-99 in
Washington on April 2. Bobby Jr. promptly and predictably
dedicated the Sixth Man Award to his mother before Game 5 against
the Jazz, and during the season Sarah's name has graced his
armband, making Jackson a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
"I got to spend a lot of time with my mother in that final month
when she was dying," Bobby says. "She was everything to me." With
typical togetherness the Kings flew en masse to attend her
funeral in Salisbury on Jan. 25.

Indeed, there is no better example of that Sacramento camaraderie
than the relationship between the team's two point guards. "The
only reason this situation works is that they like each other,"
says Adelman. "I don't know what I'd do if they didn't."

For the latest NBA news, plus analysis from Jack McCallum, go to
si.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [COVER] SACRAMENTO'S Secret Formula Bobby + Bibby = Perfect Point Guard Super Sixth Man Bobby Jackson COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH GRIPPING DRAMA Jackson snatched the Sixth Man Award, but his good buddy Bibby (inset, left) has a firm hold on the starting spot. COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH IRON MIKE Bibby's passing skills, along with his deadly jump shot, make him ideal to run the Kings' break and pick-and-roll. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO KICK START As the lead playmaker, Nash fills the Bibby role for the Mavericks. COLOR PHOTO: GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES EYE-TO-EYE Though each one thinks he's the better player, the two point guards revel in the Kings' camaraderie.

Points, COUNTER POINTS

At crucial moments in the Kings-Mavericks series, look for the
"duel of the dual point guards," as Dallas assistant coach Donn
Nelson calls it, for his team, like Sacramento, has an effective
tandem of smallish quarterbacks. The Mavs' 6'3" Steve Nash, the
starter, and 6'1" Nick Van Exel, the sixth man, usually play
together for longer stretches than Bibby and Jackson--in Sunday's
Game 7 win over the Trail Blazers they shared the court for 29
minutes, including all but 10 seconds of the fourth quarter--but
in form and function they resemble the Kings' duo. "All four of
us are shotmakers and playmakers," says Nash. "The styles are
slightly different, but the productivity is very similar."

If more precise comparisons had to be made, Nash would be Bibby
and Van Exel would be Jackson. Nash, like Bibby, is more the pure
point, skilled at the pick-and-roll, expert at finding his big
scorer, Dirk Nowitzki, on the perimeter. Yet Nash's gallimaufry
of improbable floaters and runners calls to mind Jackson. Van
Exel, like Jackson, is a bold assassin, slightly more physical
than Nash, with an underrated low-post game. At the same time he
can be an effortless scorer, like Bibby. Neither Mav, however,
can match Bibby as a jump shooter or Jackson as a defensive
stopper.

For the second year in a row the four playmakers will meet in the
Western Conference semifinals. Including that series they have
gone head-to-head-to-head-to-head seven times, with the Kings
holding a 5-2 edge. Here's how the point guards' numbers compare
in those games. --J.M.

Sacramento PPG APG RPG FG%

Mike Bibby 19.7 6.7 3.0 44.3
Bobby Jackson 14.1 3.6 4.9 41.4
Combined Average 33.9 10.3 7.9 43.1

Dallas PPG APG RPG FG%

Steve Nash 19.1 9.0 4.1 49.5
Nick Van Exel 11.9 4.3 3.4 35.7
Combined Average 31.0 13.3 7.6 42.6

"I don't mean to say ONE LINEUP IS BETTER than another," Bibby
says, "but Bobby and I feed off each other, ENERGYWISE."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)