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Cassell's free throws beat Nuggets, cap 35-point night

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers were sloppy with the
ball and they still have plenty of kinks to work out.

For the final 6:44, though, they were good enough.

Sam Cassell scored 35 points and hit a pair of free throws with
12 seconds remaining Thursday night to help Los Angeles win its
home opener, 96-95 over the Denver Nuggets.

"I'm pleased with what we were able to do down the stretch in
the fourth quarter, both offensively and defensively," Clippers
coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We've got to try and build on it."

The Nuggets, opening their season, were without star Carmelo
Anthony most of the second half. He was ejected after drawing two
technicals in a three-minute span early in the third quarter.

"We could have done it. We lost 'Melo, but we were still in the
game. It hurt us not having him in there," said Denver's Kenyon
Martin, who had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Los Angeles rallied from an 82-72 deficit midway through the
final quarter, with Cassell scoring 14 in the period and Tim Thomas
making three 3-pointers in the final 2:38 of his first home game
for the Clippers.

Thomas, signed as a free agent during the offseason, came off
the bench and shot 5-of-11 from 3-point range to finish with 21
points.

Marcus Camby had 16 points and 18 rebounds for Denver, and J.R.
Smith led the Nuggets with 21 points.

A 20-footer by Denver's Earl Boykins bounced off the rim, and
the Clippers rebounded as time expired.

Cassell's free throws came only 6 seconds after a costly
turnover in the backcourt.

Smith bumped into Cassell after the Clippers' guard had taken
the inbounds pass, but no foul was called. Cassell, off balance,
couldn't control the ball and Smith grabbed it and drove for a
layup that gave Denver a 95-94 lead with 18 seconds remaining.

The 37-year-old Cassell then took an off-balance jumper that
missed, but Yakhouba Diawara was whistled for fouling him on the
shot and Cassell made the decisive free throws.

Los Angeles eliminated the Nuggets in the opening round of the
playoffs last season, the first postseason series win for the
Clippers franchise in 30 years.

When Anthony left, angrily pulling his jersey off and tossing it
into the air as he walked down the hall to the locker room, the
Clippers were up 56-54 with 8:22 left in the third. He was the
Nuggets' leading scorer at the time with 15 points, all in the
first half.

He drew his first technical after he was called for a foul 45
seconds into the third period, then was tossed shortly afterward
for arguing a charging call against him -- his fourth personal foul
of the game.

"Defensively, we didn't have to rotate as much because he's
such a big body for our 2s and 3s to guard that we have to help so
much on him," said the Clippers' Elton Brand, who took just nine
shots and scored eight points. "He's also one of their best
shooters -- mid-range and long-range.

"So defensively, we tried to get him in foul trouble and I
think that's what helped frustrate him a little bit."

Anthony was not available for comment after the game.

The NBA, trying to eliminate complaints and other reactions
after calls, is clamping down on such behavior this season. There
is no new rule, but players and coaches were alerted during the
preseason that such reactions would no longer be tolerated.

Game notes
Detroit's Rasheed Wallace and Sacramento's Mike Bibby were
ejected Wednesday night for their reactions to calls. ... The
Clippers took the regular-season series 3-1 last season, then
eliminated the Nuggets in five games of their first-round playoff
matchup.