With Peja and C-Webb both rumored to be headling elsewhere at the trade deadline, the Sacramento Bee’s Martin McNeal takes a long look at the flawed Kings.

The Kings said they still believe they can contend for a championship. That stance may seem silly, considering they are 3-7 so far in February and lately are having a ridiculously tough time beating mediocre teams.

But that’s the NBA.

A year ago at this time, how many people were selling the Detroit Pistons as the 2004 NBA champions? Not many. And even die-hard Pistons fans didn’t have much hope after their team lost at home to the New Jersey Nets and fell behind 3-2 in the second round of the playoffs.

Standing in fifth place in the Western Conference, the Kings said they believe their best basketball will be good enough to compete with the league’s best.

With one of the season’s most challenging stretches coming up, this might be a good time for the best to unveil itself, and sooner rather than later.

Sacramento will have to find a higher level and maintain it just to get into the playoffs, as Adelman has been reminding of late.

Among the remaining regular-season games, the Kings face 16 teams that currently have a .500 or better record. So far, Sacramento is 13-15 against teams that are .500 or better. The Kings have yet to play the Orlando Magic and Detroit.

So just how do the Kings improve with the games and time they have left?

They already have one of the league’s most complete offensive attacks, one that scores inside and outside, when they move the ball like they are capable.

Undoubtedly, a healthier Peja Stojakovic (above), who has been suffering from the flu and back and hamstring aches, will lift the offense. There were murmurs at the beginning of this season about the step or half-step Bobby Jackson has allegedly lost. These days, the Kings would welcome having that half-step come off the bench in combination with reserves Maurice Evans, Darius Songaila and Eddie House and/or a couple of the starters. Jackson, recovering from a torn left wrist ligament, is projected to return for the playoffs.

Of course, the Kings’ best chances for success will occur after Cutino Mobley gets to practice with the entire starting unit. That should boost the offense even more.

Defensively, trouble continues. Sacramento’s defense is one of the league’s shakiest, allowing far too many deep penetrations. Bibby has excelled on offense despite a sore right ankle. But his on-ball defense needs to improve about as much as Brad Miller’s temperament toward referees.

And consider this: How can a team be so bad defensively and yet foul less than all but four teams?

Yo, foul a dude! Leave your man to do so. Trust your teammate will help just like you did. And should he fail to do so, jump him for it, whether he’s the highest-paid player, Chris Webber, or rookie Kevin Martin. If they can’t handle it, then winning is not the major priority and talk about making strides is just talk.

Granted, this team, especially the starting five, lacks quickness and athleticism. However, if the Kings became committed to preventing easy layups and dunks (which, by the way, is a staple of nearly every championship squad), that alone would go a long way toward defensive improvement.