SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Almost nothing went according to plan in Chris Webber’s first game back from injury.
Webber was stronger, healthier and better than anybody expected—and the Sacramento Kings eventually finished off a difficult victory without his help.
Webber had 26 points and 12 rebounds in his season debut, helping the Kings to a 113-106 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
Webber was cheered from the moment he took the court for the first time since injuring his knee in the second round of last season’s playoffs. In the interim, he underwent knee surgery, endured nine months of rehabilitation and got an eight-game suspension for lying to a grand jury and violating the NBA’s drug policy.
But the mountain of distractions didn’t affect the five-time All-Star. Webber was outstanding, showing no rust after the longest basketball layoff of his life.
“It feels so good to be contributing to your team instead of being a distraction in the media or a negative for the stupid things that you’ve done,” Webber said. “I didn’t expect to play (like that), but I did try. It was just so much adrenaline to hear my name announced. Not nervousness—a rush.”
He wasted no time rebuilding his goodwill in Sacramento.
Webber made a short hook shot on the Kings’ first possession, and he had nine points and six rebounds in the first quarter. On three consecutive plays in the third quarter, Webber made a hook shot, a long bank shot and a left-handed hook.
By the time he left for good with 4:20 to play, nobody was in doubt: Webber will be ready for a playoff run, as long as he recovers from his first game as quickly as he expects.
“That’s what we told him: He’s going to have some ups and downs, and that’s OK as long as he’s ready in April,” said Kings coach Rick Adelman, who stuck to his pre-set limit of 30 minutes for Webber. “This gives us a really good idea of how he can be and what he can do. … I never expected him to play like he did tonight.”
Sacramento swept the four-game season series with Los Angeles—but despite Webber’s play, the Kings nearly blew their 12th straight home victory over the inspired Clippers.
Webber sat out the final 4:20—and after Los Angeles trailed for most of the first three quarters, Elton Brand hit two free throws with 2:21 left to give the Clippers a 102-101 lead.
But Peja Stojakovic made two free throws moments later, then stole a pass and drove for a layup. Vlade Divac, Brad Miller and Doug Christie added two free throws apiece in the final 23 seconds as the Kings hung on for their 10th victory in 12 games.
Though they nearly stole their first victory in Sacramento since Nov. 7, 1997, even the Clippers were impressed by Webber’s performance.
“I guess Webber was really rusty,” Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I’d hate to see him when he warms up.”
Webber replaced Miller in the starting lineup, but the All-Star center responded with 23 points and nine rebounds—including 17 points in 17 first-half minutes—in his first game as Webber’s teammate. Divac also thrived in reduced minutes, getting 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Stojakovic, the NBA’s third-leading scorer, had 23 points for the Kings, who improved the NBA’s best record to 44-15. Sacramento also increased its Pacific Division lead over the Lakers to six games following Los Angeles’ 94-93 loss in Atlanta.
Corey Maggette scored 32 points for the Clippers, who lost for the fourth time in five games despite a strong effort from their stars. Brand had 25 points and Quentin Richardson added 17. Los Angeles went 19-for-20 at the free throw line.
“It was a great game, having C-Webb back,” Maggette said. “I’ve never been to the playoffs, but it felt like a playoff game. He just did a great jobfor his first game back.”
Clippers F Matt Barnes grew up in the Sacramento area as a huge Kings fan, but he didn’t get into his first career game at Arco Arena. … Kings forwards Darius Songaila and Tony Massenburg didn’t get in the game. … At the halftime buzzer, Miller completely missed the basket with a shot from beyond half-court. Instead, he hit Bibby, who was walking up the tunnel to the Kings’ locker room. … Kings F Gerald Wallace missed his second straight game with a sprained left foot. G Bobby Jackson is eligible to return from the injured list after missing his sixth straight game with an abdominal strain. … Webberturned 31 on Monday.