The Los Angeles Clippers are desperately trying to hang on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Things won’t get much easier for the Clippers when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
The Clippers (34-37) currently own the eighth and final playoff berth in the West, though four teams are within four games of Los Angeles and one of them is the Kings, who are 3 1/2 games behind.
The Clippers, though, have lost 17 straight at Arco Arena, dating to Nov. 7, 1997. In its only trip there this season, Los Angeles shot 30.9 percent from the field—still a season low—in a 93-80 loss on Nov. 28.
In the most recent meeting, however, Los Angeles beat Sacramento 102-93 at home to snap a 14-game overall losing streak in the series. The Kings are still 27-6 against the Clippers since the start of the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
Los Angeles has been playing well of late, winning five of six games before a 92-87 loss to red-hot Houston on Wednesday night. The Clippers had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds, but 3-point specialist Tim Thomas missed an open 23-footer.
“If we continue to play this well, we will make the playoffs,” Clippers forward Elton Brand said. “During the last five games, we have played very well. This could have been a great win for us.”
Friday’s contest will mark the return of Jason Hart to Sacramento. After playing 66 games for the Kings in 2005-06, he saw action in only 13 this season before he was released on March 1. Hart was quickly picked up by the Clippers, who needed a point guard following the season-ending injury suffered by Shaun Livingston, and he’s averaged nearly eight points while starting the last 11 games.
“Seriously, they (the Clippers) have a good team, so I’ve just come in and tried do my part,” said Hart, who had a season-high 16 points, six rebounds and five assists on Wednesday. “I’m trying to make the game easy for the players so they can score. I’m trying to fit in so we can get some victories.”
Another one over the Kings (30-40) would be a big boost for the Clippers and damaging for Sacramento, which has had a four-day layoff after picking up a surprising 107-100 win over Phoenix on Sunday.
Despite playing without injured starters Kevin Martin, Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas, the Kings snapped a three-game losing streak thanks to Mike Bibby, who hit a franchise-record nine 3-pointers and finished with 37 points.
“This feels good,” Bibby said. “It was a big win, and we needed it. We’ve got 12 (games) left, so we’ve got to make sure we get a good amount of those 12 to give ourselves a chance.
“It’s all still right there; we’ve just got to keep winning and hope that other teams lose.”
Martin, the Kings’ leading scorer at 20.5 points per game, left in the second quarter after injuring his eye and experiencing double vision. While it’s likely Martin and Thomas (toe) will return, Miller is day-to-day with a foot injury that has kept him sidelined the last three games.
Sacramento had lost eight of nine overall and three straight at home before beating the Suns.
The Clippers and Kings meet for the final time this season on April 15 in Los Angeles.