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Kings take control as Clippers fade in playoff race

LOS ANGELES -- Ron Artest and Elton Brand became quite
chummy during their two seasons as teammates with the Chicago
Bulls. So the Sacramento Kings forward had decidedly mixed feelings
after doing so much damage to the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff
hopes.

Artest had a career-high 10 assists, leading the Kings to a
105-100 victory over the fading Clippers on Sunday. He also scored
15 points, including an 18-foot jumper with 36 seconds remaining
after the Clippers closed to 96-92 on a pair of 3-pointers by Tim
Thomas 26 seconds apart.

"I always want to see my boy E.B. in the playoffs," Artest
said. "I kind of wished we could have lost tonight so that they
could have won, because I like to see Elton do well all the time."

Brand had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Clippers, who lost
for the 20th time in their past 23 meetings with Sacramento. They
fell one game behind eighth-place Golden State in the Western
Conference.

"We needed to step up, and we didn't," Brand said. "I'm real
disappointed with the way we played in the first quarter. I'm
shocked because our guys didn't come out and play hard. We knew
what the task was at hand, but we just didn't deliver. Some guys
made the effort and other guys didn't."

Playing in front of their 13th sellout crowd of the season, the
Clippers fell flat on their faces in the first half against the
last-place team in the Pacific Division and fell behind by 23
points midway through the second quarter before making it close at
the end.

Corey Maggette, who averaged 25 points over his previous six
games, played 16 minutes in the first half without scoring and
finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Jason Hart,
who had become a key ingredient in the Clippers' playoff push after
getting waived by the Kings on March 1, started his 20th
consecutive game and finished with six points and six assists in 28
minutes.
The Clippers end the regular season with games Tuesday night at
Phoenix and Wednesday night at home against New Orleans, setting
themselves up for a possible scenario in which they could be
mathematically eliminated in the season finale -- which is Fan
Appreciation Night at Staples Center.

The Kings, who had lost 15 of their previous 19 games, wrapped
up their road schedule with a 13-28 record -- the worst mark since
1997-98, when they were 6-35 under coach Eddie Jordan. Despite
being 14 games under .500 after eight consecutive postseason
appearances, they will have plenty of say regarding who gets the
final two playoff spots in the conference. Sacramento finishes the
season at home against the Hornets and Lakers, who are still in the
hunt.

"We definitely need help, but it doesn't look like we are going
to get any," Brand said.

The Clippers were in a position to clinch a playoff spot last
season by beating Sacramento at Staples Center, but lost that night
after blowing a four-point lead in the final three minutes. They
eventually secured one with seven games to spare and made it to the
second round for the first time in 30 years.

Reserve swingman Francisco Garcia scored 16 points for the
Kings, including a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch. Mike Bibby,
one of six Sacramento players in double digits, scored 13 of his 15
points in the first half.

Artest, who never had more than nine assists in any of his 475
previous NBA regular-season games, had seven in the first quarter
help Sacramento take a 34-23 lead. Three of them came on 3-point
baskets by Bibby. Artest surpassed his previous career high in
assists when he set up John Salmons for a jumper that gave his team
an 85-73 lead with 7:29 to play.

"They were just doubling me coming down, so I just got rid of
it and my teammates hit shots," Artest said. "I'm always able to
set my teammates up. I haven't had a chance to do it this year, but
in Indiana I was in a situation where I was able to pass the ball a
little bit more."

The Kings salvaged a split of the four-game season series. The
Clippers won 102-93 win on Dec. 29 in Los Angeles, ending a 14-game
losing streak against the Kings, and their 105-101 victory on March
30 snapped a string of 17 consecutive losses at Sacramento.<

Game notes:
Brand, who wears No. 42, said he will donate his jersey
from this game to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Dream Foundation in
honor of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league
debut. "I started wearing that number before middle school because
it was the biggest jersey available. But when I got older and found
out the significance of it, then I really embraced it -- and now,
I'll never change it," Brand said. "Jackie Robinson broke
barriers, not only in baseball, but all sports. I think it's
special that all the Dodgers are wearing 42 today, and I hope they
win that game." ... Kings F Corliss Williamson missed his fifth
straight game because of a sore right heel.