Kings 96, Clippers 93

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Los Angeles Clippers were less than 3 minutes away from clinching their first playoff berth in nine seasons and had a four-point lead. Ron Artest and the Sacramento Kings had other ideas.

Artest scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to offset Sam Cassell’s late scoring spree and Mike Bibby had 30 points, leading the Kings to a 96-93 victory on Friday night. The Kings are 22-13 since acquiring Artest Jan. 25 in a trade that sent Peja Stojakovic to Indiana.

“Ron has been terrific for us,” Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. He plays hard and he does everything you need him to do. Tonight he stepped up huge down the stretch on the offensive and defensive end when we needed him.”

Sacramento swept the Clippers for the third straight season, beating them for the 13th consecutive time and 18th time in 19 meetings. They have won the last seven times they’ve faced each other in Los Angeles.

The Clippers haven’t beaten the Kings since Jan. 18, 2003. Sacramento’s average margin of victory in the last eight meetings is just five points. The Kings made it harder on themselves in this one by missing 13 of 36 free throws, but compensated for it by converting the Clippers’ 13 turnovers into 20 points.

Artest missed his first five shots before hitting a 3-pointer that gave Sacramento a 32-30 lead with 8:49 left in the second quarter. He finished 8-for-20, but saved his best for last.

“It’s big,” Bibby said. “When he came in, he brought toughness to the team defensively. And it’s a mismatch on offense, too. I always joke that I’ve got four power forwards out there with me because Ron and Bonzi Wells are two big bodies.”

Six Clippers scored in double figures. Cuttino Mobley led the way with 19 points. Elton Brand had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Cassell finished with 17 points—nine of them in the final 5:39.

Los Angeles led by as many as eight points early in the third quarter before Sacramento pulled ahead 60-58 on a dunk by Kenny Thomas with 5:07 left in the period. The Kings entered the fourth with a 72-69 edge, but the Clippers took an 86-85 lead when Cassell missed a long jumper, chased down the rebound and hit a 16-footer with 4:32 remaining.

Cassell added a 14-footer and a 3-point shot for a 91-87 advantage with 2:53 left. But Artest was equal to the challenge, making a 3-pointer and a 12-footer to put the Kings back in front 94-92 with 35 seconds to play.

“Clinching a playoff spot tonight was our goal,” Brand said. “To be up by four points with under 2 1/2 minutes left, it’s disappointing that we let it slip away. We had some defensive mishaps that led to Artest getting some open shots. Everybody talks about his defense, which is incredible, but you saw the big 3 that he hit to tie the game.”

Mobley missed one of two free throws for the Clippers and Brad Miller sank both of his at the other end for Sacramento to make it 96-93. Cassell missed an off-balance 3 with 12 seconds on the clock.

“Sam Cassell’s tough,” Artest said. “You have to chase him around a lot because he’s so quick and he can hit shots, so you’ve got to always be aware of him. I tried to do my best, and he missed that shot at the end. So it worked out.”

The Clippers got another chance after Miller missed both free throws with 9.9 seconds left, but Vladimir Radmanovich missed a 3-pointer from the left sideline as time expired.

“Our finish was disappointing,” coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I thought we got a little frantic at the end, where we had time on the clock and shot the ball quickly. I thought our double-team on Artest was not quick enough. Those mistakes, as well as 20 points on turnovers, was the difference in the game.”

Clippers forward Corey Maggette was at home because of back spasms that cropped up during Friday morning’s shootaround. Maggette was the team’s leading scorer last season, but has missed 39 games this season because of a foot injury that kept him sidelined until March 3.

Cassell, who sat out Wednesday’s game against Phoenix because of a hyperextended right knee, came off the bench for just the second time in 73 games this season.

Mobley played a reserve role for the fourth time because of matchup considerations, and the fact that Dunleavy wanted Quinton Ross and Shaun Livingston to set the tone defensively in the Clippers’ backcourt. As a result, the Clippers’ “bench” outscored Sacramento’s reserves 46-8.

The Kings, who are vying for their eighth consecutive playoff appearance, are tied with the Lakers for seventh place in the Western Conference, two games ahead of New Orleans and three in front of Utah. The Clippers are fifth in the conference.

Notes

Brand and Artest were teammates with the Chicago Bulls during their first two NBA seasons. … The victory was the 100th by the Kings franchise over the Clippers franchise. The Kings started out as the Rochester Royals before shifting to Cincinnati and then Kansas City. … The Clippers face the Lakers on Sunday, trying to win that season series for the first time since 1992-93.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Sacramento
M. Bibby M. Bibby
8-16,  30 Pts
6 Rebs, 4 Assists
 LA Clippers
C. Kaman C. Kaman
4-8,  9 Pts
15 Rebs, 3 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists