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Kings won't allow Mavsto dictate pace

Sacramento takes 2-0 lead

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If there was one guy the Nelsons added to their arsenal who was supposed to replace what they lost in Nick Van Exel, it was Antoine Walker. It wasn't Van Exel's offense that Walker was expected to replace, however, as much as it was Van Exel's chest-pounding, no-fear, in-your-face attitude, especially this time of year.

So it was not surprising that in the wake of the Mavericks' Game 1 loss to the Kings that Walker offered a remedy that was eerily reminiscent of what Van Exel served up last year facing the exact same situation. Walker said the Mavericks needed to impose their style of play on the Kings rather than allow the Kings to dictate the pace.

Not to any fault of his own, but Walker's words didn't carry the same weight as Van Exel's. The Mavericks scored 79 points in Game 2 on Tuesday night at Arco Arena, falling four points shy of the Kings. The Kings put them in a heap of trouble, down two wins to none in this best-of-7 set.

The Kings dictated the pace of the second contest from the very start, and the Mavericks shot just 32 percent for the game.

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But Chris Webber didn't go down with a knee injury as he did in Game 2 a year ago, never to return in that series that the Mavericks eked out in a deciding seventh game.

The Mavericks just ran and ran and ran, and shot and shot and shot that day. Van Exel paced them, and they scored 132 points.

There would be none of that this time. The Mavericks didn't look as if they could sucker the Kings into run-and-gun ball anymore, which doesn't bode well for the Mavericks in the long run. And Webber posted a masterful triple-double, scoring 19 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 12 assists.

If the Kings learned their lesson from last year's series, the Mavericks will have to beat them playing a style of basketball the Mavericks don't play well.

That the Mavericks stuck with Kings on Tuesday on the Kings' court in what turned out to be an Eastern Conference-type of game should have been encouraging for them, at least. They can compete at such a pace.

The problem was their stick-to-itiveness was due less to the way they played as a team than the way Dirk Nowitzki performed once again.

The Kings had no answer for Nowitzki. He was too mobile for Webber or Vlade Divac on the wing. He was too big for defensive wizard Doug Christie.

But he wasn't getting much help for the second outing in a row. For example, he didn't have any teammates make at least half their shot attempts in the first half. And when he went cold in the third, no one else plugged the hole.

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Lucky for the Mavericks, sharp-shooting Kings forward Peja Stojakovic was off his game early and often, missing the wide-open shots he made in Game 1. But he made the biggest play of the game, knocking the ball out of Michael Finley's grip as Finley attempted a potential game-tying jump shot with seconds left.

That underscored what was really the Mavericks' biggest difficulty going into this postseason. Their lack of defense looms large, but they are accustomed to that. It is their lack of experience, especially playoff experience, that is a new hurdle altogether.

The Kings aren't just more talented than the Mavericks this postseason, they're more seasoned, too, and there is no countering that.

Kevin B. Blackistone is a sports columnist with The Dallas Morning News.

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