SACRAMENTO, CALIF. To go with those nagging frettings every game about Raef LaFrentz fouling out, LaFrentz's coaches have a new lament.
They suddenly have to worry about LaFrentz just showing up.
It's among the biggest concerns for the Mavericks entering today's return to Fortress Arco for Game 2, Round 2 against the Sacramento Kings. No one in the Dallas camp wants to foist any more pressure on a floundering LaFrentz, who's clearly pressing plenty on his own, but everyone also sees just one game in that the visitors can't win this series playing centerless.
Not if Vlade Divac, never a beacon of consistency, musters another game or two in the 18-point, 16-rebound realm. Certainly not if Chris Webber, as you'd assume, plays better than he did in the opener, when Webber's four offensive fouls led to his own LaFrentz-like early exit with 4:09 to play.
LaFrentz's ledger reveals two straight no-shows and counting, as he continues to look jittery on the NBA tournament stage. He hasn't played in games even close to this magnitude since his Kansas days, and Saturday's three points, six rebounds and five fouls added up to the harshest reminder yet that he's nowhere near Lawrence anymore.
Before Sunday's practice, LaFrentz conceded that his struggles are "frustrating." His fellow former Nugget, Avery Johnson, took it a little deeper, suggesting that the layoff between the first-round sweep of Minnesota and Game 1 against Sacramento "probably affected Raef more than anybody on our team."
It definitely didn't help.
After two passable home games in the Minnesota sweep with averages of 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, and that crucial banked three-pointer in Game 1 LaFrentz fouled out in 17 minutes of Game 3. He then had five full days off to either forget that nightmare or let it stew.
Or, apparently, invoke Secret Option No. 3 by playing worse in Sacramento.
"He doesn't look nervous, but I'd say he looks a little out of it," said the Kings' Scot Pollard, a longtime LaFrentz buddy from their time together at Kansas. "I don't know if he's not feeling well or not feeling confident. Usually he shoots well against us."
Actually, the Maves could live with the occasional 1-for-7 showings if LaFrentz's defense and rebounding were dominant. Or if he hadn't racked up four fouls by halftime, as he did Saturday.
LaFrentz gets the same general instructions every game keep your hands high and your feet on the floor and establish yourself as shot-changer early.
When it happens that way, LaFrentz knocking back a few in the first half, it can put doubt in the shooters' minds ... and spare Raef the risk of actually contesting every single shot with a foul-prone swipe at the ball.
Trouble is, in this matchup, Divac oozes guile.
Divic is a man the Mavericks are going to have to double-team if LaFrentz can't hush the LaFoul jokes with a good Game 2.
Single coverage on Divac got shredded.
"Any time he gets the ball on the block, he has so many moves, he's going to make life tough," said LaFrentz, a playoff rookie whose present existence couldn't be much more unpleasant.