Mavs silence cowbells, but shooting problems still ring

Sunday, May 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Everything the Dallas Mavericks encountered at Arco Arena seemed to throw them off their game _ even the cowbells behind their bench.

The Mavericks went back to practice Sunday determined to recover the swagger and style they lacked in a 108-91 defeat in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Sacramento Kings. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night.

``We're so used to causing problems for everybody with our offense that when it wasn't happening for us, we were kind of lost,'' All-Star point guard Steve Nash said.

``We weren't sharp at any point. I think they know they didn't see our best effort. We're out here today just trying to get our heads back together.''

The top-seeded Kings beat the NBA's best road team with relative ease, using a more versatile offensive attack and taking the Mavs out of their own offensive flow with judicious defensive pressure.

Of course, Dallas helped out with skittish ball movement and its worst shooting percentage (38.9) of the postseason _ a big problem for a team completely wedded to jump shots for its livelihood.

The Mavs, so calm and collected while winning in their previous three trips to Sacramento and sweeping Minnesota in the first round, never found a groove.

``That wasn't us,'' guard Nick Van Exel said. ``You'll see us on Monday night, I think.''

At least the Mavericks will be able to hear themselves think in timeout huddles. During Game 1, they got NBA security personnel to silence the fans who have rung cowbells behind the opposing bench during the playoffs and other big games for years.

``You shouldn't bring objects like that into an arena,'' coach Don Nelson said. ``Those cowbells do actually hurt your ears. They should ban them.''

The Mavericks have bigger concerns than cowbells, however. For all their theatrical offensive talents, they rely on simple jumpers for the bulk of their points _ even more than the Kings, who encountered the same problem in their first-round series against Utah.

Chris Webber said his team learned from the defensive job done by the Jazz, who forced the Kings into excessive ball movement and poor shots while short-circuiting their fastbreak with good rebounding.

``The fact that we had a tough first-round series while they were having a pretty easy time was good for us mentally,'' Webber said. ``We eked out a tough series and won, and then we didn't shoot the ball well, but we were tough enough to win it.''

The Mavericks must make adjustments to their defense to counter Vlade Divac and Webber, who were strong in the low post; even Peja Stojakovic scored several of his 26 points on drives to the hoop. That might mean more playing time for shot-blocking center Shawn Bradley, but Nelson wasn't tipping his hand.

The Kings weren't satisfied with their effort in the first game, either. Sacramento got a 17-point victory despite another disappointing game from Webber, who scored 20 points but made no contributions down the stretch because of foul trouble. Webber eventually fouled out, with four offensive fouls among his six.

Webber, silenced by the Lakers last season in his first career appearance in the conference semifinals, grimaced Sunday when asked about the calls against him. He repeated a declaration to make contributions other than his incitement of the Arco crowd with his scowls and arm waves.

``My mother called me after the game, laughing about how I got the crowd pumped up,'' Webber said with a laugh. ``I told her ... I need to do more than that. I'm an emotional player, and the smart thing they're doing is trying to irritate me.''

Dallas forward Eduardo Najera, who shadowed Webber during the regular season, wasn't as effective in Game 1 after breaking his thumb two hours earlier during warmups. Najera's finger was heavily taped at practice Sunday, and he laughed when asked if he could still hit a long jumper.

``It's hurting, but I'm not a 3-point shooter,'' Najera said. ``My job is to get rebounds and play defense.''