SACRAMENTO — The teams that battled down the stretch for the last playoff spot in the West last spring fought each other for something more modest Friday night, a victory, of which each had none.
The Clippers prevailed last spring and they won Friday night, blowing the Sacramento Kings off the floor in the second half and winning, 98-85, before 15,858 in Arco Arena.
"Couldn't have been more timely," Coach Bill Fitch said. "Getting that first one--we found out a couple years ago how hard it could be, no matter how hard you played."
He found out, all right. Fitch started 0-16 two seasons ago.
"Didn't have a heart attack that year, either," he added.
As disasters go, this was right up there for the Kings. They fell to 0-4. Forward Michael Smith broke a bone in his right wrist and was lost for two months.
Capping it off, they lost the league's only perfect attendance record. The crowd of 15,858 was more than 1,000 under capacity, which meant the Kings' 12-year, 497-game sellout streak, dating to their arrival from Kansas City in 1985, was over.
The Clippers, who don't have to worry about sellout streaks, had their own problems but, at least for a night, they're over.
"We played well," Brent Barry said. "We just had lapses the first three games. Looked like we were having another early on when they went up 10 points but we just persevered, kept the tempo up and thankfully, got the victory."
The Clippers trailed, 17-7, but they started running and the points came in bunches: an 11-0 spurt in the first quarter, a 12-0 run to start the second. They led, 45-43, at halftime then tore into the Kings once more, starting the third period with an 18-6 run that moved them into the lead to stay.
"Yes, I'm concerned about the start," Fitch said before the game. "A lot of teams in the league would have lost to those three teams [the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets], but it's going to be a while.
"I said coming out of camp, it looks like we're going to have some growing pains while we establish an identity, learn how to win."
They had more growing pains Friday. On the first two plays the Kings ran, Stojko Vrankovic picked up fouls and that was it for him in the first quarter. The Kings shot to a 17-7 lead, heartening their long-suffering fans.
Unfortunately for the fans, their suffering wasn't over. Instead of rolling over and getting routed, the Clippers surged back into the game, running fastbreak after fastbreak with their swift lineup (Lorenzen Wright at center, Rodney Rogers and Lamond Murray at forwards, Barry and James Robinson at guards).
The Clippers went on an 11-0 run to take the lead. At this point, King Coach Eddie Jordan, who had served notice he wants to rein in Mitch Richmond, sat him down, Richmond having missed six of his eight shots.
Jordan is looking to the day when Richmond is no longer a King and hoping he has someone else who can step up and make the shots Richmond has made, carrying the team through the '90s.
"In order for this team to grow and get better, other guys have to be available or expected to make big shots," Jordan said before the game. "I know Mahmoud [Abdul-Rauf] can make those shots. I know Olden [Polynice] has made some shots down the stretch. I think Clarence Funderburke can do it. I think Corliss Williamson can do it. Those are other guys you can turn to."
It didn't work out like that. Richmond left late in the first quarter. The second quarter started with Richmond still on the bench, and the Clippers unleashed another wave of fastbreaks, one after another, 12 points worth, to take a 32-23 lead.
Jordan put Richmond back in. Voila! He scored eight points within two minutes. The half ended with the Clippers up, 45-43.