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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

BREAK'S OVER; SLUMP ISN'T


The Clippers played well enough on the road tonight to beat most teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Dallas Mavericks are not most teams. The Clippers gave Mark Cuban a good scare and gave themselves a chance to win at the end -- something few of the Mavs' opponents have experienced at American Airlines Center this season -- but again find themselves doing what they've said they don't want to do anymore: searching for positives after a loss.

The Clips battled hard all night. They knew they had to stay in the game early to avoid a repeat of the debacle Jan. 20 at Staples Center, in which Dallas stormed out to a 37-21 lead after one quarter and the Clippers never came within spitting distance. The Mavs threatened to pull away again tonight, hitting an eye-popping twelve of their first sixteen shots, but eight points from Elton Brand, seven from Chris Kaman, and a pair of Clipper moneyballs by Sam Cassell kept the Clips within six at 31-25 after one. Hot streaks by Cassell, Kaman and Cuttino Mobley, the first of Vladimir Radmanovic's three triples, and a pair of FTs by Zeljko Rebraca (how nice is it to see Big Z back in the lineup?) pulled the Clips within 55-50 at the half.

The Clips have started third quarters well most of the season. Coach Dunleavy gives them the gameplan at halftime; they go out and execute it. Tonight, however, the Mavs won the first 6:40 of the second half 18-8 to build their biggest lead at 73-58, largely on the back of Josh Howard. 23 points on sizzling 9-11 shooting from the field made Howard tonight's Clipper All-Star (i.e., the opponent whom the Clippers make to look like an All-Star).

But the Clips battled back. Shaun Livingston's good, aggressive nine-foot running jumper made it 86-84 Dallas 4:40 into the fourth. But as their All-Star got hot -- Dirk Nowitski followed a driving layup with two sixteen-foot jumpers to extend the Mavs' lead back to eight less than a minute and a half later -- ours -- undoubtedly fatigued from the weekend's activities in Houston -- wore down: EB finished with 20 and 8 on just 40% FGs.

But bingos by Cassell and Vlad Rad made it 92-91 Dallas with 3.9 seconds on the clock and Howard at the line for two. Clips fans' memories returned to Dec. 10, 2003, when then-Mav Steve Nash, in the same situation, missed both foul shots and the Clips had the ball as time wound down. Ralph Lawler: "Elton Brand, for the win...NO!...Chris Kaman, the tip-in...NO!...it bounces out to Glen Rice, for the win...YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Returning to reality, Howard missed the first foul shot. Maybe, we all thought, lightning could strike twice. Then, Howard missed the second shot -- but he missed it so badly it bounced out to Jerry Stackhouse, who was fouled with 1.2 seconds left as Mike Smith moaned, "You have to get that rebound." Yep, you do -- but Stackhouse left the door open. He missed the first of two and hit the second, giving the Clips the ball down 93-91. Dunleavy diagrammed the same play the team ran in Toronto, but this time Livy found EB under the basket for a tying two. His pass, though, overshot the mark. EB could only flail at it, starting the clock by touching it, and watch the last grain of sand trickle down the hourglass.

It takes a superhuman effort to beat the Mavs at home, where they've lost only four times in 27 games. Tiny imperfections are magnified severalfold. In this regard, consider the following: Both teams shot 72.2% FTs, but the Clippers' 13-18 resulted in thirteen fewer points than the Mavs' 26-36. The Clippers lost both halves of the rebounding battle by two (10-30-40 vs. 12-32-44). The Clippers had one fewer assist, one more turnover. The Mavs' bench scoring doubled theirs at 22-11.

Admittedly, the Mavs' second five could start for many teams in the league; in fact, they have. But a team with the temerity -- as Melanie Griffith lisped in Shining Through, "My grandfather called it chutzpah" -- to let down at home against the Chicago Bulls (and let's face it, the Clippers started their All-Star break four days early) must atone for its sins. You give away one you should win, you have to steal one you should lose.

And though there are positives, tonight does indeed go down as just another loss, the team's fourth straight with another tough matchup tomorrow night in Houston. The Clippers lead Memphis by all of 1/2 game, the Hornets by 1-1/2, the Lakers by 3-1/2. Sacramento is suddenly six back with a bullet. In Just Go Away, Blondie sang, "Your foot is firmly entrenched where a molar should be." The Clippers, too, now find themselves firmly entrenched -- in the lower tier of the Western Conference playoff race.

Join the discussion of the game by clicking the Clipper Talk icon. -- Jordan

Great entry Jordan! You did an awesome job of recapping the game, very detailed. You dotted and the "I"s and crossed all the "T"s. Just a tad long, but great read. Congrats man.

Admins in Da House.....watchin U's ...! Great start man......now if the team could just give ya something to get excited about....!

BEAT THE spROCKETS !

Nice entry! I enjoyed reading.

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