Clippers Make It Close, but Still Lose : Pro basketball: Los Angeles draws within three in the final minute, but Sacramento, off to its best start since 1978-79, wins, 92-86.
The Clippers and Sacramento Kings used to be the dregs of the Pacific Division, always battling it out for last place.
The Clippers are headed for their second consecutive last-place finish, but Coach Gary St. Jean has rejuvenated the Kings this season.
If the season ended today, the Kings would qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1986 and the Clippers would earn a trip to the NBA draft lottery.
The Kings handed the Clippers their second loss in a row and their 17th in 21 games, 92-86, Saturday night before a crowd of 17,751 at The Pond of Anaheim.
“They’ve gotten drastically better,” said Clipper forward Loy Vaught, who had a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds. “They’re physical, they have a lot of depth and they’re very well coached.”
Off to their best start since 1978-79, Sacramento (22-15) has posted the NBA’s third-biggest turnaround this season.
The Kings, who allowed a league-high 106.9 points per game last season, are allowing only 97 points per game this season, fifth in the NBA. They’re third in field-goal percentage defense (44.8%) and they lead the league in defending the new three-point arc (29.8%).
After shooting 50% in the first quarter, the Clippers shot only 40% in the second half, making 22 of 55 shots.
Ranked last in the NBA in free-throw percentage (66.5%) before the game, the Clippers shot only 65.5% from the line, missing 10 of 29 free throws. The Clippers missed six of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Clipper Coach Bill Fitch thinks Mitch Richmond has been the key to the Kings’ resurgence.
“I think when they made the Richmond deal and they brought in Spud Webb from Atlanta, they had a couple of veteran players to build around,” Fitch said. “They’ve got good chemistry.”
The Clippers, who trailed, 86-81, cut the deficit to three points when rookie Eric Piatkowski, who had 10 points, made a tip-in with 53 seconds left.
But Richmond, who had 21 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, answered with a jumper with 30 seconds left to give the Kings an 88-83 advantage.
The Clippers called time out to set up a play and forward Tony Massenburg, who had 12 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes as a reserve, made a dunk with 13 seconds left to make it 88-85, but the Kings held off the Clippers for their third victory in a row and the seventh in their last nine games.
Clipper forward Lamond Murray, the NBA’s third-leading rookie scorer with an average of 13.7 points, struggled, scoring only five points in 30 minutes. Murray missed six of eight shots as he failed to score in double figures for the first time in 18 games.
King center Olden Polynice, who was suspended without pay for Thursday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors and fined $5,000 by the NBA for fighting with Portland’s Rod Strickland in the second quarter of last Tuesday night’s game, returned to action, scoring 12 points and getting 11 rebounds.
Vaught, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds in Friday night’s 108-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, had 15 points and four rebounds in the first half as the Clippers, who led by as many as nine points, took a 48-43 halftime lead.
Vaught jump-started the Clippers, scoring eight points and getting three rebounds as the Clippers took a 25-19 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Clippers, who led, 18-16, outscored the Kings, 7-3, in the last 3:46 of the opening quarter.
Guard Gary Grant, who missed Wednesday night’s 92-83 victory over Cleveland because of a bruised left knee and was held out of Friday’s 108-97 loss to Portland, played for the first time in three games. . . . Mitch Huberman, the Clippers’ vice president of marketing and broadcasting, injured his right Achilles’ tendon in a pickup basketball game Saturday and will undergo surgery Monday.