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Western Conference Insider: Kings' Martin a no-name no more

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jan 12 2009 12:39PM

In just his third game back from an early season ankle injury, the Kings' Kevin Martin made history, coming off the bench to score 45 points against the Pacers on Jan. 3. Only six others reserves ever have scored more in a single game.

The 6-foot-7, 185-pound shooting guard has since returned to the starting lineup for Sacramento -- sending Francisco Garcia to the second unit -- and helped break the Kings' five-game losing streak with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting against Dallas on Sunday.

Martin, who finished second to Golden State's Monta Ellis for the Most Improved Player award two seasons ago, stressed the importance of his team improving now that it has its first W of 2009.

"It was a good team win,'' Martin said. "But we need to get to two instead of worrying about one. We need to get to two and then hopefully that translates into three, four and five.'' Three of Sacramento's five losses during the skid were by five points or less.

Now in his fifth season, Martin already has established himself as one of the game's elite scorers. His 24.1 points per game average would rank sixth this season if he had played enough minutes and was eligible. As anonymous as Martin is -- he played college ball at Western Carolina, his nickname, "K-Mart," already is spoken for by Kenyon Martin and he even had his first name mispronounced as "Kelvin" when highlights of his 45-point outburst against Indy were aired on a national show -- there are telltale signs of him becoming a star.

From the No. 23 he wears on his jersey to having the swagger to make a bet with teammate Mikki Moore that he would dunk on the Trail Blazers' Greg Oden, (he won, setting YouTube afire), Martin has shown he is more than just a scorer with excellent shooting percentages (approximately 45-40-85 on field goals, threes and free throws, respectively).

Martin's return caused some dissension in the Kings' locker room, with John Salmons voicing his displeasure at his diminished role. But one Western Conference executive told me that head coach Kenny Natt is simply following marching orders to feature Martin, who is in the second season of a five-year, $55 million contract.

Dunleavy on Miles

About a month before the whole Darius Miles e-mail saga played out, the Los Angeles Clippers invited the seven-year pro to work out because they were running out of healthy bodies.

"We thought that he showed some good signs, good things," Clippers coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy said. "[We] didn't think he was in the greatest of shape and because of our injury situation, we couldn't take on another guy on the active list that you couldn't have active, so it made no sense for us at the time."

Despite Miles' conditioning, Dunleavy was convinced that the player was still an NBA-caliber talent. "We knew somebody would pick him up," Dunleavy said. "I talked to Boston's guys about him -- Doc [Rivers] and Danny [Ainge] -- and they both said real positive things about their experiences with him in training camp."

Dunleavy said that another factor in passing on Miles was the Clippers' salary cap figure. They passed on Miles in favor of Fred Jones, who is scheduled to receive the league minimum. Miles' eventual suitor, the Grizzlies, didn't have that problem. The salary cap for the 2008-09 season is $58.68 million, which Memphis comes in well below with its $51.38 million team salary.

Shaqovich, the shooter

Shaquille O'Neal is riding a perfect 12-for-12 mark at the free throw line in his last two games against the Mavericks and Clippers. O'Neal's teammates have started to call him, "Shaqovich," which -- surprise, surprise! -- is yet another self-appointed nickname from the big fella. "If you go around the league, anybody with the last name 'vich' is a great shooter," O'Neal explained. "Radmanovic, Vujacic ... all those 'iches.'"

Now in his 17th season, O'Neal said he has reverted to his old high school shooting form at the foul line. Apparently, a couple of decades ago, O'Neal was a decent shooter.

"Rather than sticking with what I know, listening to people and changing my form, I was trying just a little bit too hard," O'Neal said. "Now I'm just shooting it the way I was taught to shoot a long, long time ago."

O'Neal said that part of the motivation for the change was his pursuit of history. The man who always went by the credo that he makes them "when they count" has realized that every "easy bucket" counts when you're trying to become one of the NBA's all-time leading scorers.

"When it's said and done, I'll probably be No. 4 in scoring, No. 3 in blocks with my name in history as [being] part of one of the greatest 1-2 punches ever to play in the game."

Layups

If you weren't convinced that the Suns' Seven Seconds or Less era was over yet, a note on the whiteboard in their locker room before they played the Clippers on Sunday should do the job: "No quick long shots -- make them defend us" ... The Hornets' Tyson Chandler on his rebounds average dropping from 11.7 last season to eight this year: "Watching some tape I've seen some problems, some bad habits I picked up that I got to get away from. I just got to get after it"...Minnesota lost its first eight games with Kevin McHale at the helm, but the Timberwolves have won all five of their games in 2009, marking the longest current winning streak in the league ... Winners of nine of their last 10, the Spurs are the hottest team in the NBA right now. Their league-low 12.2 turnovers per game help explain that resurgence ... With the addition of Cheikh Samb, the Clippers have suited up 18 different players this season.

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