Vlade Divac: "I don't care what the Lakers think about us"
It seems like the Kings had a little bit rougher of a start than you might have expected, but you seem to have gotten things turned around. What has been the key to getting things back on the right track?
Vlade Divac: I think we kind of got used to having players injured. It kind of happened so quickly during the preseason games that almost every week somebody went down. Until we figured out how we were going to play, we lost three or four games. Now we got used to playing with Bobby Jackson on the point guard and playing without Scot Pollard and Mike Bibby, and a couple of games without Predrag. So it's looking good now.
What have you had to do so far to compensate for the absence of Bibby thus far on the season?
VD: I think Bobby's doing a great job. He's really tried to be focused on what he has to do as a point guard, not like a shooting guard before. Now he's trying to get everybody involved.
When is Mike supposed to be back?
VD: They are thinking about middle of December.
Will there be another period of adjustment when he comes back?
VD: Yes. The most important thing is repetition. When you try to practice shots, you try to repeat so much. Same thing with chemistry. When you practice, you play with a group of guys and you get used to it. When somebody else comes in, it throws you off.
How about your own game. Are you happy with the way you have played this year?
VD: Yeah. Standard. It's nothing new, nothing spectacular. It's just consistent, which I like to be.
What about Chris Webber. Have his off-court problems affected his play, or has it made him even more focused toward proving something?
VD: He's doing great. He's leading this team very well and I am so proud of him.
Have you seen a lot of growth in him in the time you've played with him?
VD: He really became a positive and great leader of this team and he's the guy who can take this franchise to another level.
Speaking of that, for the Kings this year, will anything short of a championship this year be considered a disappointment?
VD: You can't go into a season guaranteeing you can win. I think our satisfaction is to get there and have a chance to win. If you do that, I think it's going to be fine. It would be a great thing to win but if we don't, at least we can say we get there and gave ourselves a chance. If we don't get the chance, that would be disappointing for us.
It seems that between the Kings and the Lakers, it's gotten almost way more personal, starting way before the season and what happened in the preseason game. Do you think the Lakers are afraid of you right now?
VD: I don't know if they are or not and I really don't care. I think the media really picked it up and made it bigger than it is. For us, like I said before, we'll try to get there-through them or somebody else, I don't care. We want to get there.
Do you think the Lakers are trying to get you guys focusing on talking back and forth with them instead of playing the game on the court?
VD: I don't know and I don't really care what they're thinking about us. It's 12 guys here and the coaching staff and everybody in the organization trying to stay together and focus on what we have to do to get there.
Has it become almost the point where it's a mental hurdle. You were this close to going and taking the next step and now it didn't happen. Is it almost more mental now than physical?
VD: People who play sports have to be in those types of situations many, many times. For somebody who it's the first time, it's kind of tough, but for all those guys I don't think it's a big deal. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win, and especially the way we lost, we feel good about ourselves.
In the end, as long as Shaq is healthy, is that what it comes down to with beating the Lakers, stopping him?
VD: Obviously, with Shaq and without Shaq, they're two different teams. With Shaq they're a championship team, without Shaq they're an average team.
Are there any things you can do that haven't been tried yet?
VD: Not really. If we play the same way we played last year we'll be OK. I think we earned a little respect from everybody else who has an impact on the game so hopefully it will be a different outcome.
What centers other than Shaq give you the most problems in terms of matchups?
Do you plan on playing in the Olympics in 2004?
VD: No. I didn't think I was going to play this year [in the World Championships], but I figured out it was going to be fun and I took a chance. But in two years, who knows how I'm going to feel. It's been a long time playing basketball, so I need some rest.
Obviously, the way USA Basketball's talking now, they plan on bringing in the big guns. Do you think they were embarrassed by the way they played in the World Championships this year?
VD: Probably. Like I said before. You can't put heat on those players. They were there to play the best they can, but obviously Yugoslavia was better.
USA Basketball almost seems like they're at the point where if they just put NBA guys on the floor and don't give them time, they can still get it done. Do you think they've shown that time is past?
VD: Yeah. Other countries play basketball too and they improve every year. You can't really just show up and think you're going to win. You got to put some practice and effort and everything else into it.
Bruce Meyer is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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