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Hornets finish with worst mark in franchise history

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- To Elton Brand, the Los Angeles Clippers'
dominant performance in their final game of the season was a sign
of an improving young team that will be primed to make a playoff
run in 2006. That is, if management can retain a couple of key free
agents.

Bobby Simmons and Marko Jaric scored 14 points each to help the
Clippers defeat New Orleans 86-75 Wednesday night, leaving the
Hornets with the worst record (18-64) in franchise history. Simmons
also grabbed 11 rebounds.

"It's very critical," Brand said, calling Bobby Simmons "the
best shooter on this team, by far."

"We need to get him back and Marko Jaric. We want to sign these
guys up and keep this team strong, keep this nucleus strong,"
Brand said.

Brand led Los Angeles with 18 points and 14 rebounds in what was
otherwise a meaningless game between two non-playoff teams.

While Simmons and Jaric played leading roles in the victory, it
was the opposite story for two of the top Hornets entering the free
agent market this summer. Dan Dickau shot 1-for-10 and finished
with three points, and Bostjan Nachbar was 1-for-8 for six points.
J.R. Smith led New Orleans with 15 points.

"It is frustrating to end on a note like that, but it's not
going to stick in mind too long because there have been too many
positives throughout the year," Dickau said.

New Orleans had a nine-game losing streak to end the season, the
last loss leaving the Hornets one game worse than the
then-Charlotte Hornets of 1989-90, the franchise's second season in
existence.

But Dickau and Nachbar both said they were thankful for the
opportunity they received with the Hornets and sounded genuine when
they said they'd like to return.

"I really like the organization and I'm really thankful for
what they gave me," Nachbar said. "They believed in me and that
means a lot."

Simmons said there was a good chance he'd be back with the
Clippers.

"It's going to be one of the biggest decisions of my life. I
just have to sit down and weigh my decision," he said, referring
to next year's Clippers squad as if were already part of it. "I
think we'll be good. If everyone comes in healthy and stays healthy
throughout the whole year, that will guarantee us making the
playoffs next year."

New Orleans has a lot farther to go.

Despite showing some hustle before a surprisingly enthusiastic
crowd, the Hornets could shoot no better than 33.7 percent from the
floor. The Clippers lead hovered around 10 points for most of the
game. It got as large as 69-51 after Jaric's driving scoop, and
pull-up jumpers by Shawn Livingston and Zeljko Rebraca rounded out
a 12-2 run late in the third quarter.

The Hornets' only lead was back in the opening minutes.

Smith's driving dunk right after the opening tap was the first
of three dunks in the Hornets' first four possessions, and it
looked as though Los Angeles was already thinking about the
offseason. That proved to be an aberration, however, and Clippers
went on a 22-6 run en route to a 31-18 lead on Brand's 17-foot
jumper.

It left coach Mike Dunleavy pleased with the progress of a team
that stayed in the playoff race until March and might have done
better if not for a rash of injuries.

"If you're talking about having the same group back and they'd
all be healthy ... I'd like our chances," Dunleavy said.

Game notes
The Clippers finished the season 10-31 on the road, while
the Hornets, who lost their last 10 home games, finished 11-30 on
their home court. ... Hornets owner George Shinn addressed an
announced crowd of 15,982 before the game, thanking them for their
support despite the team's struggles. He also told them, "this is
your team," and pledged that the Hornets would remain in New
Orleans for many years to come. The Hornets have been mentioned in
several recent reports about cities, such as Kansas City, trying to
land an NBA franchise. In a speech at a season-ticket holder event
a day earlier, Shinn dismissed those reports.