It's obvious that the Clippers miss guard Derek Smith this season.
They traded him to the Sacramento Kings last summer for guards Larry Drew and Mike Woodson, a first-round draft choice in 1988 and a No. 2 pick in 1989. The Kings also received Franklin Edwards and Junior Bridgeman.
Playing in the Sports Arena for the first time since the trade, Smith scored 20 points, including 14 in the second half, as the Kings beat the Clippers, 117-113, Thursday night before 6,825 fans.
"Derek is a big-game player," Clipper Coach Don Chaney said. "He has the size and strength over most guards. If his game is on, he's unstoppable. He's a great player.
"I thought he had a poor first half, but when they needed it, he came through."
The Kings are 2-0 against the Clippers since the Smith deal. Sacramento was 0-5 against the Clippers last season.
"I was thinking about this game all day," Smith said. "I'm not vindictive, but I just want to beat them."
Smith looked like two different players against the Clippers. He had a miserable first half, hitting just 3 of 11 shots. And it appeared that Smith, who missed most of last season after undergoing knee surgery, had lost his explosive first step to the basket.
"Derek is starting to feel better and better," Sacramento Coach Phil Johnson said. "He's starting to explode. He was starting to explode earlier in the year, but he hyperflexed his knee in a game against the Lakers, and he's just starting to come back. I think he'll get better."
Smith was at his best in the fourth period, when he scored 9 points. He made 6 of 10 shots in the second half. With the Clippers leading, 104-102, Smith sank two straight jumpers to give the Kings a 106-104 lead with 2 minutes 50 seconds left.
"The difference between the first and second halves was, in the first half I was shooting jump shots and I was off," Smith said. "Come crunch time (the fourth period), I wanted to get the ball down low. Obviously, my inside game has suffered from not being able to push off (because of the knee injury). I still lack the explosive leap inside the paint (key), but I think my jump shot feels good."
Sacramento point guard Reggie Theus scored a team-high 26 points, 8 in the fourth period, and had 14 assists.
There have been reports of a feud between Smith and Theus in the Sacramento media. Ron Grinker, Smith's agent, told the Sacramento Bee last week that Theus wasn't getting Smith the ball in the right spots on the court and that it may have been a mistake to sign with the Kings. However, Smith has said that Grinker wasn't speaking for him.
"I'm still confident that Reggie Theus and I can be the best backcourt in the league," Smith said.
Said Theus: "Derek and I get along real well. There was a short period of adjustment between us. Sometimes, they're putting too much pressure on him (Smith). He got a great contract from Sacramento. We don't need him to score 30 points a game. We just need him to play well, and we'll be fine."
The game matched two of the worst teams in the National Basketball Assn.
Sacramento (7-17) is in last place in the Midwest Division. The Kings, who snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Clippers, have just 2 wins in their last 11 games.
The injury-depleted Clippers (4-19) have the worst record in the NBA and are in last place in the Pacific Division. They have lost four straight and 16 of their last 17 games.
"They (the Clippers) are a little bit like we are," Johnson said. "They're snakebit. They're looking over their shoulder like we are."
However, the Clippers, who were getting blown out regularly during their recent 12-game losing streak, have been playing better in the last week. They have lost five of their last six games by four points or less.
However, in close games, the Clippers don't have anyone they can rely on down the stretch. They can't finish the game.
"I'm at a loss for words," Chaney said. "I'm very disgusted. I'm tired of losing."
Woodson led the Clippers with 28 points, including 19 in the second half. Forward Cedric Maxwell had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Darnell Valentine had 14 points and 7 assists, while forward Michael Cage had 17 rebounds and 14 points.
The Kings outscored the Clippers, 11-7, in the final 2 minutes 26 seconds.
Eddie Johnson hit a 20-foot jumper to give Sacramento a 108-106 lead with 2:10 left. Clipper center Tim Kempton made one of two free throws to pull Los Angeles within a point with 2:03 left. But Theus sank two free throws after he was fouled by Valentine with 1:44 remaining to give the Kings a 110-107 lead. After Kempton sank two free throws with 1:26 left, Theus made two more free throws with 1:18 left to give the Kings a 112-109 lead.
Clipper Notes Sacramento forward Terry Tyler had 17 points, and Otis Thorpe added 13 points and 15 rebounds. Center LaSalle Thompson had 9 points and 12 rebounds. . . . Clipper guard Darnell Valentine needed four stitches to close a cut above his left eye after he was fouled by Mark Olberding with 3:13 left in the first half. But he returned to action in the second half. . . . Clipper guard Larry Drew was sidelined for the 10th time in the last 11 games with a hamstring strain. . . . The Clippers are still searching for an assistant coach to replace Brad Greenberg, who resigned earlier this week to take a similar job with the New York Knicks. . . . Belinda Cline, secretary to Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor, sang the national anthem before the game.