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Kimble, Clippers Do Their Things in 90-80 Victory : Pro basketball: Rookie pays tribute to Gathers and also scores 22 points against Sacramento.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bo Kimble, who struggled through the exhibition season shooting 34%, put those trials and tribulations behind him Friday night at the Sports Arena.

He scored 22 points in a 90-80 season-opening victory over the Sacramento Kings before 12,845, and paid a special tribute to a special friend.

With 9:33 left in the third quarter, Kimble shot his first NBA free throw left-handed in honor of Hank Gathers, his former Loyola Marymount teammate who died playing basketball last March. Kimble missed badly, but it didn’t matter.

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What did matter was that he and Ken Norman helped the Clippers come back from a 46-39 halftime deficit.

The left-handed free throw, however, was a significant subplot.

For one thing, the Sports Arena is where Kimble and Gathers first played when they came to Los Angeles, high school teammates from Philadelphia recruited to play for USC.

For another, the foul that sent Kimble to the free-throw line was committed by Sacramento rookie Lionel Simmons, a good friend of both Kimble and Gathers from their high school days.

Kimble says was this was the first and last time he will switch to southpaw. It was something Gathers did at Loyola to improve his poor foul shooting.

Kimble did not over-dramatize the moment. He went to the line and shot before most fans had a chance to react.

“I just remembered what it was all about and what it was for,” Kimble said of his thoughts while preparing to shoot. “That was the moment for me. It was 10 seconds for me to be selfish and think about what everything meant to me and about our friendship.”

Said Simmons: “I was rooting for it. I really wanted it to go in, because of what it stood for.”

Kimble hadn’t shot a free throw left-handed since playing in the NCAA tournament last spring, when he went three for three. But he practiced earlier Friday, taking 15 left-handed shots.

Of bigger concern was his outside shooting during the exhibition season. He did better playing for real, making four of seven shots in the first half. He had a few long-range swishes, but also had a couple of bad misses.

In the second half, he made five of eight field-goal attempts and scored 14 of his 22 points.

Said Simmons: “He’s been lighting me up like that for the past five years or so. It’s something I’ve gotten used to.”

Norman, who played 44 minutes, was the Clippers’ leading scorer with 24 points. He had 18 in the second half.

The Clippers led, 68-66, after Kimble hit from the right side with 8:31 remaining. That started a 16-6 rally to push the advantage to 84-72 with 3:38 to play. Norman and Kimble accounted for 14 of the 16 points.

The lead-in to the opener didn’t exactly fit the script, this being the most anticipated season in Clipper history.

First, Danny Manning was declared out for the first game and maybe the second, Sunday against Golden State, because of tendinitis in his right knee.

Then on Thursday, center Benoit Benjamin suffered what originally was thought to be a strained muscle in his right shoulder. But Friday morning, it was announced that Benjamin actually separated his shoulder and and his status is day-to-day.

Ken Bannister started in place of Benjamin and scored eight points and had nine rebounds.

In the first half, the Clippers had 11 turnovers that led to 15 points for Sacramento. In the second half, though, they gave the ball away only twice and limited the Kings to 34 points.

Clipper Notes

Chances are good Benoit Benjamin will also miss Sunday’s game, and he could be out as many as seven days. The sixth-year center isn’t even scheduled to be examined again by Tony Daly, the Clipper team physician, until Monday. “He feels good about doing something Sunday,” trainer Keith Jones said before the game. “That’s not out of the question, but it is doubtful. Danny Manning, who is listed as day-to-day, will be checked Sunday. “Right now he’s questionable,” Jones said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern is expected to attend Sunday’s 6 p.m. game against Golden State. Stern attended the Utah-Phoenix game Friday in Tokyo and will be stopping in Los Angeles on his way back to New York.

Gary Grant has become the second Clipper to change his uniform number for this season, switching from the No. 23 he wore for two seasons to No. 1. “Just trying to so something different,” said Grant, returning after missing a broken ankle Feb. 2 ended his 1989-90 season. “Twenty-three didn’t give me much luck, injury wise.” Ken Norman had already changed from No. 33 to No. 3.


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