LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers were less than 3
minutes away from clinching their first playoff berth in nine
seasons and had a four-point lead. Ron Artest and the Sacramento
Kings had other ideas.
Artest scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to
offset Sam Cassell's late scoring spree and Mike Bibby had 30
points, leading the Kings to a 96-93 victory on Friday night. The
Kings are 22-13 since acquiring Artest Jan. 25 in a trade that sent
Peja Stojakovic to Indiana.
"Ron has been terrific for us," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman
said. He plays hard and he does everything you need him to do.
Tonight he stepped up huge down the stretch on the offensive and
defensive end when we needed him."
Sacramento swept the Clippers for the third straight season,
beating them for the 13th consecutive time and 18th time in 19
meetings. They have won the last seven times they've faced each
other in Los Angeles.
The Clippers haven't beaten the Kings since Jan. 18, 2003.
Sacramento's average margin of victory in the last eight meetings
is just five points. The Kings made it harder on themselves in this
one by missing 13 of 36 free throws, but compensated for it by
converting the Clippers' 13 turnovers into 20 points.
Artest missed his first five shots before hitting a 3-pointer
that gave Sacramento a 32-30 lead with 8:49 left in the second
quarter. He finished 8-for-20, but saved his best for last.
"It's big," Bibby said. "When he came in, he brought
toughness to the team defensively. And it's a mismatch on offense,
too. I always joke that I've got four power forwards out there with
me because Ron and Bonzi Wells are two big bodies."
Six Clippers scored in double figures. Cuttino Mobley led the
way with 19 points. Elton Brand had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and
Cassell finished with 17 points -- nine of them in the final 5:39.
Los Angeles led by as many as eight points early in the third
quarter before Sacramento pulled ahead 60-58 on a dunk by Kenny
Thomas with 5:07 left in the period. The Kings entered the fourth
with a 72-69 edge, but the Clippers took an 86-85 lead when Cassell
missed a long jumper, chased down the rebound and hit a 16-footer
with 4:32 remaining.
Cassell added a 14-footer and a 3-point shot for a 91-87
advantage with 2:53 left. But Artest was equal to the challenge,
making a 3-pointer and a 12-footer to put the Kings back in front
94-92 with 35 seconds to play.
"Clinching a playoff spot tonight was our goal," Brand said.
"To be up by four points with under 2½ minutes left, it's
disappointing that we let it slip away. We had some defensive
mishaps that led to Artest getting some open shots. Everybody talks
about his defense, which is incredible, but you saw the big 3 that
he hit to tie the game."
Mobley missed one of two free throws for the Clippers and Brad
Miller sank both of his at the other end for Sacramento to make it
96-93. Cassell missed an off-balance 3 with 12 seconds on the
"Sam Cassell's tough," Artest said. "You have to chase him
around a lot because he's so quick and he can hit shots, so you've
got to always be aware of him. I tried to do my best, and he missed
that shot at the end. So it worked out."
The Clippers got another chance after Miller missed both free
throws with 9.9 seconds left, but Vladimir Radmanovich missed a
3-pointer from the left sideline as time expired.
"Our finish was disappointing," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I
thought we got a little frantic at the end, where we had time on
the clock and shot the ball quickly. I thought our double-team on
Artest was not quick enough. Those mistakes, as well as 20 points
on turnovers, was the difference in the game."
Clippers forward Corey Maggette was at home because of back
spasms that cropped up during Friday morning's shootaround.
Maggette was the team's leading scorer last season, but has missed
39 games this season because of a foot injury that kept him
sidelined until March 3.
Cassell, who sat out Wednesday's game against Phoenix because of
a hyperextended right knee, came off the bench for just the second
time in 73 games this season.
Mobley played a reserve role for the fourth time because of
matchup considerations, and the fact that Dunleavy wanted Quinton
Ross and Shaun Livingston to set the tone defensively in the
Clippers' backcourt. As a result, the Clippers' "bench" outscored
Sacramento's reserves 46-8.
The Kings, who are vying for their eighth consecutive playoff
appearance, are tied with the Lakers for seventh place in the
Western Conference, two games ahead of New Orleans and three in
front of Utah. The Clippers are fifth in the conference.
Brand and Artest were teammates with the Chicago Bulls
during their first two NBA seasons. ... The victory was the 100th
by the Kings franchise over the Clippers franchise. The Kings
started out as the Rochester Royals before shifting to Cincinnati
and then Kansas City. ... The Clippers face the Lakers on Sunday,
trying to win that season series for the first time since 1992-93.