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Kings notes: Maloofs impressed with Conseco Fieldhouse
By Sam Amick -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:31 am PST Saturday, March 18, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS - In a perfect world for the Maloofs, their only relocating would would involve Conseco Fieldhouse.
Brothers Gavin and Joe would steal the Indiana Pacers' arena, stuff it into their deep pockets, bring it to Sacramento and plop it on the real estate lot of their choice.
But before the Kings and Indiana faced off Friday night, the Maloofs had to settle for a tour of the facility that is widely regarded as the class of the NBA.
With vice president/executive director of Conseco Fieldhouse Rick Fuson leading the way, the Kings' co-owners received their first all-access tour of Conseco as the never-ending brainstorm for their own dream arena continues.
Opened in 1999, Conseco has nearly everything the Maloofs desire - a central downtown location, a nostalgic feel that captures the franchise's history, wide concourses and a roomy, yet intimate, atmosphere.
"They built the right product for the right city," Gavin Maloof said. "I asked Rick if there's anything else they'd do differently, he said 'nope.' "
The Maloofs left with plenty of ideas.
"We'd like something about this size, maybe a little smaller, right about 18,000 (capacity)," Gavin said. "They have 70 suites here. We'd probably have 60. Right now we have 30. ... I like the entry way, where you have the fan interaction and the high ceilings. We always wanted to have venues like this outside of the building, where you could come 24-7, any time of the year, with steakhouses and restaurants."
Kings center Vitaly Potapenko knows the arena. He scored the first basket at Conseco Fieldhouse, when his Boston Celtics faced the Pacers on Nov. 6, 1999.
A different tax bracket: Someone pointed out to Joe Maloof that he wasn't wearing green on St. Patrick's Day.
He opened his wallet to a crumpled mass of one hundred dollar bills.
"There's my green," he joked.
A good sign: Amid the sea of Ron Artest lovers and haters around the players' tunnel was a sign that likely made no sense to most.
"Shapiro is our Hero."
Daniel Shapiro is the Kings' strength and conditioning coach, who had admirers in the crowd - three barbers from his former locale of Dayton, Ohio, where he held the same job for the University of Dayton.
Nearby, a Pacers fan pulled an early April Fools trick on Artest, offering his basketball card for the former Pacer to sign out of his reach. He was, as it turned out, no fan of Artest, who laughed and playfully threw jabs at the jester's midsection.
Injury update: Francisco García was running full bore before the game, keeping up with drills administered by Shapiro. García, who is out with a sprained left ankle, won't play against Minnesota on Sunday but is hoping to play against Seattle on Tuesday.
Kenny Thomas is battling tendinitis in his left shoulder, and he wore an electric stimulator machine before the game.
Ailene Voisin: Indiana puts Artest in check
By Ailene Voisin -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 18, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS - They were sitting back and waiting, almost 18,345 impassioned Hoosiers who swear they don't give a hoot about him anymore. Waiting to jeer. Waiting to curse. Waiting to vent. Waiting for Ron Artest to make his first appearance in an opponent's jersey - any opponent's jersey - so they could tell him exactly what they think of him.
He hurt them. They hurt him.
He rejected them. They spurned him.
This was payback, a loud and lusty rebuttal.
"There are still a lot of people who are happy to see me," Artest insisted feebly late Friday night inside Conseco Fieldhouse.
Wishful thinking on his part. More importantly, though, his team lost the game, and for perhaps the first time since he joined the Kings and almost methodically muscled his new teammates into the playoff picture, the veteran forward appeared overpowered by his environment. He doubled over and clutched his knees in emotional fatigue. He seemed mentally and physically exhausted - and played like it, particularly in the deciding half.
As his teammates botched layups, blew open jumpers and blew a 16-point lead, Artest was the maestro of a one-man, one-pass, offense more characteristic of Pacers than Kings. His only weakness as a player - a tendency to dominate the ball and try to do too much offensively - became a chronic problem throughout the second half, in essence, left the Kings playing the isolation game, with Artest assuming the role of the solo sketch artist; it was not a lovely sight. Forced jumpers. Off-balance drives.
This was not the Ron Artest whose outsized presence has transformed the Kings, but rather, was a stunningly mortal performer who came home expecting hugs and kisses, only to be showered with the type of verbal abuse generally reserved for, say, the Detroit Pistons. It was as if everything suddenly came rushing back with a vengeance - the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the ensuing suspensions, the fractured relationship with Pacers coach Rick Carlisle and star Jermaine O'Neal, the impassioned demand for a trade, that, when he really thought about it, he wasn't so sure he ever really wanted to happen.
Too late now. The Pacer People are infatuated with Peja Stojakovic, and the feelings are mutual. It has taken all of six weeks for the former Kings star to recapture the skip in his step, the rhythm in his jumper, the energy to sprint between the baselines. And not that Artest needed anyone dumping kerosene on his emotional engine or anything, but Stojakovic was the more effective performer Friday night, his contributions including a critical transition basket in the closing minutes.
"Yeah, maybe I tried to do too much," the always candid Artest admitted after the large media contingent had vacated the locker room. "A little bit, a little bit. There was so much emotion out there. But I just missed so many layups ... I didn't play my best, that's for sure."
Age and experience offer little protection in these circumstances. Cutting comments pain both pros and amateurs alike. While Artest attempted to minimize the distractions, distancing himself from his outside (see Hollywood) interests in order to concentrate on re-establishing his NBA career, the circus act inside Conseco was unavoidable.
Hundreds of fans arrived early and formed lines three-four deep around the court during pregame warmups. Several held up signs, most applauding his departure, most urging him to stay away.
"We love you Ron," shouted one dissenting Pacers fan.
"No, we don't," yelled another in retaliation.
As the evening unfolded, the mood inside the building became nastier, the animosity more heartfelt. Artest was booed when his name was announced during introductions, booed every time he touched the ball, booed when he walked off the court during intermission. He was cheered only when he missed a field goal, dropped a pass, committed a turnover, then booed again in the end, after the Pacers had wrestled their way to the comeback victory.
"I think it was weird with all the media around," a visibly relieved Artest said afterward. "It was a different day for us. It was good to get this game out of the way."
Now maybe the Kings can continue with their season. Their season, and they can only hope, their recent surge.
At close range, Kings fire blanks
Botched layups - 15 of them - squash streak
By Sam Amick -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, March 18, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS - The night before the Ron Artest reunion, the Kings small forward and former teammate Stephen Jackson found their way to a local watering hole.
The two friends, as Jackson said, had been "through some wars" together. Some were good, one - in particular - was bad, but all were worth recounting.
But looking ahead, they were just like the rest of the NBA world - curious as to how Pacers fans would react to their once-troubled former star.
"I told him, 'Don't be surprised if some people are jerks about it,' " Jackson said. "They boo me, and I play here. But (Thursday) night, nobody really bothered him. The people that he did see embraced him, and a couple told jokes, saying 'We're going to beat your butt tomorrow.' "
Score one for Jackson, and none for the jokesters. The Kings beat themselves far worse than the Pacers did in a 98-93 loss Friday that kept Sacramento tied with the Lakers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Jackson was right about the booing, which was incessant, coming every time Artest touched the ball at Conseco Fieldhouse. And with so much history and hysteria surrounding Artest, he saw through all of it to offer a postgame evaluation that couldn't have been more accurate.
"We just missed layups," he said after some 30 reporters left his side. "That was it."
The final count was 15 missed layups, with Artest accounting for four and Bonzi Wells - who was 5 of 16 from the field in 29 minutes - misfiring on seven as the Kings had their five-game winning streak ended. The clank-a-thon was the byproduct of a Kings performance that went from nearly flawless to forgettable once the first-quarter buzzer sounded. Twelve minutes in, it seemed the Kings already had dealt the knockout blow, hitting 16 of 23 from the field while leading 36-20.
But the letdown was fast and furious, with the Kings hitting 21 of 70 shots from there until the end, finally giving up the lead on a Danny Granger jumper with 3:38 left in the third quarter, regaining it and losing it again after leading by four points in the fourth.
Peja Stojakovic had no such shooting trouble, hitting 8 of 13 shots (including his layups) while scoring 20 points in his first game against the team he suited up for in his first seven-plus seasons.
Artest insisted the atmosphere played no part, that the unfriendly signs and the boos and the media circus didn't lead to his undoing. Still, he was just 6 of 22 from the field for 18 points, his worst outing since a 4-for-20 showing in a loss to Memphis on Feb. 15. Artest - who was 2 of 14 in the second half - had attempted more shots only twice since becoming a King. And after disputing the notion that he was eager to put this rematch behind him, Artest admitted as much.
"There's a lot of focus on me right now," he said. "It's good to get this game out of the way. It really is."
Stojakovic, who beforehand was friendly with everybody affiliated with the Kings, relished the win.
"It was different, after spending so much time there and going against them for the first time," he said. "I'm glad we played much better in the second half. We accepted their tempo and style of play in the second half."
The Kings never seemed to accept that Granger was such a threat, as the rookie forward out of New Mexico had a career-high 23 points. A fellow Lobos alum, Kings forward Kenny Thomas, had his worst game in some time, finishing with six points and seven rebounds.
"I told him, 'Don't be surprised if some people are jerks about it,' " Jackson said. "They boo me, and I play here. But (Thursday) night, nobody really bothered him. The people that he did see embraced him, and a couple told jokes, saying 'We're going to beat your butt tomorrow.'
I really dont see anyone going up to Ron face to face and being a complete jerk to him,even though some people may say they would.I have a feeling that when/if they get by ron they might be a little scared of him.
Agreed. As the members of Guns and Roses once said, "every rose has its thorn".