Kings 88, Nets 87

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Mike Bibby’s three awful quarters were similar to most of his performances during this tough season. His seven brilliant minutes were more like the player Bibby used to be—and the player he hopes to be again for the Sacramento Kings.

Bibby scored the Kings’ last 15 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 10.3 seconds to play, and Sacramento dramatically erased a 20-point deficit for an 88-87 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Monday night.

Bibby was 0-for-6 with one free throw in the first three quarters before taking charge of an improbable comeback for the Kings, who roared from behind to win for just the second time in 10 games. Ron Artest scored 21 points, but Bibby’s clutch play in the final minutes snapped the Nets’ four-game winning streak.

Bibby is struggling through his worst season since he was a rookie in Vancouver, and his woes are just another symptom of the last-place Kings’ worst year in a decade. But for seven minutes, Bibby was his old big-game self— hitting tough shots, handling the ball flawlessly and stalking the court with fearlessness.

“I had a lot of help out there,” Bibby said. “Ron did a good job, and Cisco (Francisco Garcia) hit some big shots. Everybody kept playing hard, playing tough. I see us in practice every day, so I know we’re better than what we’ve been seeing in games.”

New Jersey opened the second half with a 26-8 run, taking a 20-point lead late in the third quarter. But Sacramento steadily chipped away in the fourth, with Bibby pulling the Kings within 85-84 on a three-point play with 1:43 left.

Vince Carter found Jason Kidd for an easy layup with 48 seconds to play, but Bibby hit two free throws. After Mikki Moore lost a bad pass out of bounds under the basket, Bibby missed a jumper—but Brad Miller tapped the rebound back to Bibby, who hit a 19-footer.

“I wished the first one went in, so I was just hoping the guys kept it alive,” Bibby said.

The Kings won just once on a four-game Eastern road trip last week, and after hosting Milwaukee on Wednesday, Sacramento is headed out on another four-game road trip. If the Kings hope to escape the Pacific Division cellar before the All-Star break, they’ll need more efforts like this one—and more of the same from Bibby.

“We need a guy like that to finish games for us,” Kings coach Eric Musselman said. “Tonight, he showed what he can do. That’s not easy to do when your shot’s not falling. You have to believe we’re going to come through it.”

Moore scored a career-high 22 points, and Kidd had 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in his eighth triple-double of the season. But when the Kings surged, the Nets folded, managing just 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Kidd, who has 83 career triple-doubles, missed a floating one-handed shot in the final seconds—and the Nets’ tip rattled in and out at the buzzer before Arco Arena erupted in celebration of a rare win for the struggling Kings.

“We shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position, being up by 20 points,” Kidd said.

Until Bibby’s late heroics, the Nets appeared to be off to a strong start on their five-game road trip even without forward Richard Jefferson, who had surgery on his ankle earlier in the day. The Nets still lead the Atlantic Division with nine wins in 12 games, but failed to get back above .500 for the first time since Nov. 18.

“You’ve got to secure the win,” said leading scorer Carter, who had just eight points and five turnovers. “I don’t care how many guys we have missing. We’ve got to find a way. It was a wonderful opportunity, and we blew it.”

Eddie House scored 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting for the Nets in their first game since learning Jefferson will be out indefinitely while recovering from right ankle surgery. Jefferson, New Jersey’s third-leading scorer and a 2004 U.S. Olympian, has been slowed all season by ankle problems that began during last season’s playoffs.

Moore, the well-traveled veteran who had never started more than four games in an NBA season, has helped out with strong play during 14 straight starts for the Nets. He went 8-for-8 against Sacramento, and his defense helped to contain Artest—but the Kings saved their best defense for the final minutes.

“Our defense in the fourth quarter was the best 12 minutes of defense that we’ve played all season long,” Musselman said.

Notes

Sacramento has beaten New Jersey eight straight times at Arco Arena since 1997. … Artest, who sported a mohawk haircut during the Kings’ road trip, had a shaved head Monday night. … New Jersey’s Lawrence Frank is the NBA’s youngest head coach (36), and Musselman is the fourth-youngest (42).

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