SACRAMENTO KINGS coach Reggie Theus wanted no part of his team, which had not won on the road this season, coming into the Wachovia Center loose.
"We need to win a game," he bluntly said before last night's game against the 76ers. "This isn't Club Med. We need to win a game."
Funny, life turned out to be a day at the beach for the visitors in a 109-99 victory that was far easier than the final score might indicate.
The Kings' first road victory in 10 games also ended the Sixers' winning streak at four games. They were left with sand in their shoes as the Kings pretty much went wherever they wanted whenever they wanted.
Mostly, where they went was to the basket. Their last 13 field goals, and 14 of 15, came on layups, dunks, follow-ups and tap-ins. By the end of this improbable evening, Mikki Moore had matched his career high of 24 points, Brad Miller had scored a season-high 25, and old friend John Salmons had scored 19 points.
The Kings couldn't have gotten to the basket any easier with a police escort.
The Kings came in one loss away from establishing a franchise record for the most consecutive road losses to start a season. They were the last NBA team to win on the road this season.
Inexplicably, the Sixers were in a mood to cooperate. It's a good thing a lot of noise is piped in on the Wachovia Center sound system, because they weren't making any. At least if they had played this game in a hotel, they might have been able to get a wake-up call.
The Kings spread the floor, leaving Miller - their 7-foot center - lurking on the perimeter, with Beno Udrih and former Sixer Salmons directing the offense. The Sixers, in turn, played classic doughnut defense - nothing in the middle.
"This was a tough game [in that] we couldn't make any shots," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "Throughout the four games we won, we made a lot of timely shots, and tonight was certainly a case where we didn't make shots we normally make.
"I told Sam [center Samuel Dalembert] before the game, when you're playing against a guy who never really plays inside the paint, it's a little different. Sam is used to going inside, blocking shots; the tendency for Sam is to still do that, and it allowed Miller to get some open shots . . . .
"I think that's what it was, [the Kings] getting to the middle of the paint and pretty much getting layups. If they weren't getting layups, they were getting open jump shots."
The Sixers compounded all of that by being a step slow in reacting.
"There are going to be games when our offense and defense aren't on the same page," Cheeks said. "Our defense wasn't what it had been; unfortunately, our offense and defense weren't good. The combination of that is going to result in a loss."
Dalembert, who came within a block of recording a triple-double in Wednesday night's victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, was hardly the same player last night. And, growing irate, he had his version of why.
"Just our individual defense was terrible," said Dalembert, whose numbers plummeted to four points, nine rebounds and two blocks. "We've got to play defense, keep guys in front of us. I understand it is difficult, but, at some point, you have to take pride.
"It's hard for me to watch them go the first time and score and not do anything, and to have their big men standing outside shooting 'twos' and 'threes.' But at the end of the day, as a team we have to keep our men in front of us, challenge shots. If not, they're always going to go to the basket.
"They had a great strategy. We just didn't have a strategy how we were going to guard them, simple as that."
Or, of course, the strategy was in place and the Sixers weren't.
Andre Miller was the best the Sixers had to offer, parlaying 7-for-8 shooting in the first quarter into a team-high 24 points. Willie Green had 16, while Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala had 15 each, and Thaddeus Young 13. Despite Iguodala's final total, he wasn't much of an offensive factor most of the night, hounded by the Kings' Ron Artest.
As for all the layups, Salmons smiled and said: "That's how we try and play every game. We definitely needed it."
Salmons, Philly-born and -bred and a graduate of Plymouth-Whitemarsh High, said he had fun playing in his hometown.
"This year, it was fun," he said. "Last year, it was still a little tense. This year, I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while. I enjoy playing here. I enjoy it more than I did when I was here [as a Sixer]." *