Kurt Helin

Associated Press

On nostalgic night, Kings send Arco/Sleep Train Arena out in style

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SACRAMENTO — It was deafeningly loud.

For one last time, the former Arco-turned-Sleep Train Arena sounded like a jet plane was taking off inside the building — just like it had been in the days that Chris Webber was powering in the paint and Jason Williams was dishing without looking.

Saturday night those same fans screamed when Scott Pollard fired them up before the start of the fourth. They cheered when 50 former Kings players took the court at the half. Those fans grew louder when the 2002 Kings were introduced — Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Pollard and more of the best Kings’ team ever. Then the sound swelled to a roar when Rick Adelman’s name got called. They stood and cheered when Kevin Johnson — the former player turned Sacramento mayor that kept the team in town — was shown on the big screen.

There were countless cowbells being rung one last time. One more chant of “Sac-ra-men-to.” It was the Sacramento fans celebrating their history for one final night in the building that will now be retired.

It was also those fans celebrating one more win — Darren Collison hit a couple of big shots down the stretch that shook the old building like it was 2002. The crowd stood the final minutes of Sacramento’s dramatic 114-112 victory over Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It felt like old times.

“The building had electricity in it from the very beginning,” said George Karl. “It helped us. We rode the way of the crowd and the energy.”

Next season the Kings will move to a beautiful new building in the heart of downtown, one with all the amenities — better seats, sight lines, food options and wi-fi for the fans, not to mention much-needed locker room upgrades for the teams.

“I know one thing: the visiting locker room sucks…” said Rudy Gay with a smile. He had come to the arena as a visitor before joining the Kings. “When I used to come here and play it sucked. I’m glad that’s going to change for them.”

All those things with the new arena had to come to keep the Kings in Sacramento — something those fans fought for. That’s the future.

Saturday started out as a night for nostalgia.

“One thing about this building was, when we had really good teams and all that, it was loud,” said former Kings’ coach Adelman. “There was no building like it…. when we got it going, those people went crazy. The home court advantage was incredible. I remember that. Those were good times.”

“There’s been a lot of great history in this building, a lot of great players, a lot of great teams,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “On one hand it’s probably starting a new phase, moving on to an arena downtown. You’re closing down a lot of memories in this building. When I had Jason Williams (at the University of Florida), and he was drafted and was playing here, I followed him closely just because Jason was there. That was a time when they were striving for an NBA championship, they were really close, they had a heck of a team. We were watching games on TV and this place was just electric, and it was alive, and it’s always been a hard place to play.”

At every break in the action Saturday — as well as before and after the game — Kings’ legends were on the court and taking part in the entertainment. Brad Miller in a tricycle race can be funny, and the fans soaked it all up.

“I was here four years, and they came out and cheered hard for four years,” said Spud Webb.

But as the game wore on and the Kings — who are just flat out better when Darren Collison plays instead of Rajon Rondo — hung with the Thunder, the fans wanted one more memory. One more win. The building was at it’s loudest all night when Collison hit a few key shots down the stretch, and when Gay hit the free throws that earned the win with a second left.

“The fans were amazing as always,” said DeMarcus Cousins, who fouled out of his final game in the arena, which just felt appropriate. “The energy in the building, all the legends in the building, the support, just a fantastic night all around…

“It shows the passion of this city, it shows the passion of these fans, the loyalty is there. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect place, in my opinion.”

Next year that passion will be on display in a much nicer, more comfortable building. It’s not going anywhere.

Lillard gives Blazers lead with four-point play, Towns answers with Timberwolves game winner

Associated Press
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What a finish in Portland.

Down three with just 7.6 seconds left Damian Lillard — as clutch a shooter as there is in the league — blew the lid off the Moda Center with a four-point play.

It left just 3.5 seconds left, and it says everything you need to know about the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns that the Timberwolves got him the rock. And he delivered. (Portland’s mistake was that Al-Farouq Aminu never stood a chance one-on-one against Towns.)

Bulls stay in playoff race, beat Cavaliers 105-102

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CHICAGO — Jimmy Butler scored 21 points, rookie Cristiano Felicio added a career-high 16 and the Chicago Bulls kept their playoff hopes alive with a 105-102 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.

Chicago took the lead with a 15-0 run early in the fourth quarter and hung for the win when JR Smith missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, preventing Cleveland from clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference even though James scored 33. The Bulls still need to win their final two games and hope Indiana drops its remaining three in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

James had a huge game for Cleveland, hitting 13 of 17 shots – including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers. The four-time MVP also grabbed seven rebounds.

Smith hit seven 3s and scored 24 points, and Kevin Love added 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Things got real tight in the closing minute when Love hit a 3 and James scored on a layup to cut it to 104-101 with 30 seconds left.

Butler missed a pull-up jumper with about 9 seconds left. Cleveland’s Smith grabbed the rebound, got fouled and made the first free throw. He then rebounded his miss on the second attempt, and the Cavaliers worked the ball to Matthew Dellavedova, who shot an airball attempting a wide-open 3 with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Chicago’s Pau Gasol then hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the lead at three before Smith missed the potential tying 3 off an inbounds as time expired.

For Chicago, Butler scored 15 in the second half, and Felicio did not miss a shot in the game, going 7 for 7 from the field and 2 of 2 on free throws.

The Bulls were trailing 84-82 early in the fourth when a cutting Felicio dunked to start that 15-0 run. Felicio also had a driving layup during the spurt, Aaron Brooks added a layup and floater, and Butler buried a fadeaway shot with just under six minutes left to make it 97-84.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: G Iman Shumpert (left knee soreness) sat out. … Coach Tyronn Lue had no update on G Mo Williams, who returned to Cleveland this week for further evaluation on his injured left knee. He did not accompany the team to Chicago.

Bulls: The Bulls were without F Taj Gibson (rib contusion) and G E'Twaun Moore (left hamstring).

 

Warriors survive, advance to 71st win with 100-99 victory in Memphis

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The Warriors’ quest for 73 wins was almost undone by Matt Barnes.

The Warriors that looked like they got they got their rhythm back against the Spurs did not show up in Memphis, they couldn’t keep the grit-and-grind Grizzlies off the offensive glass (Memphis rebounded 29 percent of its missed shots), and it took a Draymond Green tip-in with a minute left — and the referees swallowing their whistles after that — to get the Warriors a 100-99 win.

With the victory the Warriors are 71-9, and their quest for the record 73 wins remains alive. The real challenge comes Sunday night, when the Warriors play on the second night of a back-to-back in San Antonio, where the Spurs have not lost this season (and will play their core guys).

Saturday’s game was the reverse of what has happened most of the season for Golden State — the front court bailed out the backcourt. Green led the way with 23 points, including the game-winner.

Curry was off his game, shooting just 3-of-14 from three and finishing with 17 points on 22 shots. Klay Thompson was 2-of-10 from three. As a team, the Warriors hit just 27.8 percent of their threes. Not that Curry didn’t have his moments.

Barnes was a beast for the shorthanded Grizzlies, scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Memphis is the six seed currently in the West but could slide to seventh, depending on what Dallas does the rest of the way. Due to all their injuries, Memphis is the team all of the top four teams in the West would prefer to face.

For Pistons, playoff berth an important step forward

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DETROIT (AP) After six seasons of virtual irrelevance, the Detroit Pistons are heading back to the playoffs.

And they certainly had to earn their spot.

“It’s a little more satisfying because it’s in a year where the East was a lot better,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The last few years, it would have taken 37 or 38 wins to get in. We had to get to 43 with two games to go still to get in.”

The Pistons clinched their first playoff berth since 2009 with a 112-99 win over Washington on Friday night. Now a dozen years removed from its most recent NBA title, Detroit is hoping this accomplishment will mark the end of a dreary stretch in which the organization changed coaches constantly and struggled to draw fans to the Palace.

Van Gundy was hired two offseasons ago as coach and team president. After going 32-50 last season, Detroit improved significantly, and the team will be rewarded with a chance to play under the playoff spotlight.

“It’s huge for our organization,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve said all along that we’ve got four starters in there who have never been, and this is huge for them.”

The Pistons can be especially encouraged because of their young roster. Star center Andre Drummond is 22, and point guard Reggie Jackson turns 26 this month. This season, Detroit traded for 23-year-old Tobias Harris, whose presence down the stretch seemed to open up scoring opportunities for other players.

Other contributors include 23-year-old Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 26-year-old Marcus Morris and 19-year-old rookie Stanley Johnson.

Jackson has at least some postseason experience, having played for Oklahoma City before being traded to the Pistons in 2015. This playoff chase felt different, though.

“I was the backup before, we were always clinching at around 60 games (with Oklahoma City) and we always knew that we would be there,” Jackson said. “Right now we’re a young team, we’re growing together, we have a nice mixture of players who are very young and some older veterans who have been here. We’re just trying to figure this thing out.”

The key stretch for Detroit was a nine-game homestand that began in mid-March. The Pistons went 6-3, then went on the road and beat Chicago. The Bulls and Wizards eventually fell short in the race for a playoff spot.

The Pistons will surely be underdogs no matter whom they face in the first round. Detroit will be seeded either seventh or eighth in the Eastern Conference and go against either Cleveland or Toronto.

The Pistons are still a flawed team. They rely heavily on their rebounding and haven’t always defended well enough for Van Gundy’s liking. And then there’s the issue of Drummond’s 36 percent foul shooting, which has caused Van Gundy to take him out in the fourth quarter at times.

But all of those concerns can wait. The Pistons can feel good about what they’ve already accomplished, knowing they’ve earned a chance to experience postseason basketball at the Palace – with fans who have waited a while for the playoffs to return to the Detroit area.

“I’ve been around the game for a long time and picked a lot of people’s brains,” Harris said. “The biggest thing is just to play as hard as you can every single night, and we have to be ready. The level of intensity picks up another notch going into playoff basketball, probably two or three notches, so we really need to be on our game.”

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