Five months after the Los Angeles Clippers opened their 2007-08 season, their star player opened his. Though it's too late for him to save his team's season, Elton Brand hopes his successful debut can help launch a Clippers resurgence that will carry into next winter.

Brand looks to lead the Clippers to their first back-to-back wins in six weeks as they visit the Pacific Division rival Sacramento Kings on Thursday.

Brand ruptured his left Achilles' tendon during an offseason workout on Aug. 3 and underwent surgery to repair it later that week. He missed his team's first 74 games before returning for the Clippers' 102-84 win over Seattle on Wednesday night.

"To be able to go out there and compete and help us get a win ... that was great," said Brand, who had 19 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was just as excited about getting the two-time All-Star back in the lineup.

"At this point, it's just good to have him out there and is a flashback to what we can be with him," Dunleavy said.

The timing of Brand's return has sparked some conversation, considering the Clippers (23-52) have clinched the worst record in the Pacific and been eliminated from playoff contention. They're on pace for their worst finish since they went 15-67 in 1999-2000.

While some players would want to delay a return to get a fresh start at the beginning of next season, Brand says he's healthy and wants to get back on the court to begin helping his team bounce back.

"There's something worth salvaging, being part of this team and growing for next year," Brand said last month when the team announced its plans to have him play before the end of this season. "If I'm healthy, I want to play. The fans want to see a good product. They want to see me out there with the team. ... I've been rehabbing, working my tail off for so long. It's to play in NBA games."

Brand also says he'd like to play in games that matter - even if they matter only for the other team. After this game, Los Angeles plays its final six against Western Conference playoff contenders.

"Hey, we got spoiled last season, so if we could do that, we'd love to," Brand said. "We're there to play. If I can be out there and contribute to our team getting some wins, I want to do it."

The Kings (34-40) don't have playoff hopes to spoil, but they did some spoiling of their own with a 99-98 victory over Houston on Tuesday night.

"It's nice that we can play a role in the Western Conference," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "The guys understand we have a role to play. If our role is to muck it up, that's what we'll do. It gives us something to play for and it's a big win for us down the stretch."

Ron Artest had 30 points with four 3-pointers and five steals Tuesday, and is averaging 27.8 points and 4.5 steals in his last four games. Sacramento is 3-1 in that stretch.


Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited