SACRAMENTO — The Sacramento Kings, who had lost eight consecutive games and were oh-for-December, played the Clippers Tuesday night. Guess what happened?
Otis Thorpe scored 31 points, most of them from ridiculously close range, and the Kings rolled to a 128-108 decision in front of 10,333 at Arco Arena.
The fact that the Clippers could lose by 20 points to a Kings team that had dropped eight straight was disturbing to Coach Gene Shue, but he was more concerned with the way the Clippers softened up near the basket.
Thorpe made 14 of 19 shots, which went along nicely with his 11 rebounds. In fact, Thorpe finished only one assist short of a triple-double, which would have been an NBA first for him.
"I think the stats crew just must have missed one," Thorpe joked.
In the meantime, the Clipper defense was no laughing matter. And the area that many pointed to was once again the center position, where Benoit Benjamin had his problems.
Benjamin had five rebounds, but only two in the second half when Sacramento shot off from a four-point lead to win going away.
Thorpe was amazed by what he saw when he looked at the Clipper inner defense.
"They offered so many opportunities, so many easy baskets," Thorpe said. "I don't know what their problem was. We could get any spot we wanted underneath."
As is so often the case when this happens to the Clippers, Benjamin seemed to be the culprit.
Said the Kings' Reggie Theus: "Ben is a very, very talented player, but he has to take pride in his own game. I see an awful lot of talent there, but it doesn't seem to matter to him.
"He's got it so good, but I can see that maybe he'll reach a point in his career and realize he could have been so much better. I don't know if he believes in himself. He has to take some responsibility."
Benjamin, who had 19 points, said the Clippers just played poorly, and he does not care to take the fall for the outcome of the game.
"I just go out there and try to do the best I can," he said. "People are always saying something negative and I have to learn how to deal with them and the media. The hell with what people say. I've just got to play through it."
Quintin Dailey led the Clippers with 20 points in 20 minutes and Mike Woodson added 19 points.
But the Clippers also missed 15 free throws, got outrebounded (52-37) for the 14th time in 19 games and were out of it for good when Theus scored six quick points to start the third quarter. The Clippers trailed, 58-54, at halftime, but they got a nice lift from rookie forward Ken Norman, who gave them some help beneath the basket.
Norman, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, had replaced another rookie, Reggie Williams, in the first quarter and quickly made his presence felt.
First, LaSalle Thompson felt him when Norman bumped him, then Norman bumped Thorpe. Since Benjamin wasn't very active inside, Norman's conquests helped the Clippers where they seemed to need it the most.
A free throw and an outside jumper by Norman and five quick points by Dailey, who came off the bench, gave the Clippers a 35-34 lead early in the second quarter. Another inside hoop by Norman, after an offensive rebound, kept them going.
Williams, who had six points in the first half after a slow start and wound up with 14, scored on a running left-hander with 45 seconds left in the second quarter for a two-point Clipper lead.
But the Kings finished fast with a layup by Thorpe after an alley-oop pass from Theus and a dunk by Thorpe.
Former Laker, former Hawk Mike McGee made his debut for the Kings, who plan to use him both as the shooting guard and small forward. Small forward? McGee, who was wallowing on the bench in Atlanta, doesn't care. "I've already got two championship rings," McGee said. "I just want to play." . . . There have already been rumors that the Kings' 4-15 start has soured Coach Bill Russell, but he said it isn't so. "I'm still excited," he said. Russell, who said he hasn't had time to play golf since July, is planning to buy a house as well as some real estate in the Sacramento area.