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Saturday, February 25, 2006 

CLIPS EVICT LAKERS




Some NBA analysts predict that a team will need 45 wins to make the Western Conference playoffs. Others project a number closer to 41. The Clippers had been acting like they thought 30 would do the trick. Entering last night's game with their cross-town rivals, they'd been stuck on the big 3-0 for five games over two miserable weeks. Fortunately, the Lakers did for the Clips what they've done for half the teams in the league: ended their longest losing streak of the season. The Clips got back into the "W" column in high style, blowing Kobe and company out of Staples Center, 102-83.

To do so, the Clips had to overcome numerous obstacles. Chris Kaman went out after playing nine minutes with an ankle sprain and will miss at least two more games -- eerily, the same prognosis given when Corey Maggette first went down. Sam Cassell's shooting slump continued unabated: E.T. hit just 2-10 overall and 0-4 from the outer rings. The third-best free throw-shooting team in the league hit just 22-35 (62.9%). And while several Lakers got away with dirty plays, Kobe got to the line anytime a Clipper breathed on him.

But the Clips did so many things so well, they still romped to victory. First and foremost, the Clips' defenders -- everyone from Cuttino Mobley to Shaun Livingston to Vladimir Radmanovic to Walter McCarty -- contained Kobe. Yes, Kobe scored 39 -- but he took just two fewer shots than the rest of the Lakers' starters combined. And the Lakers lack a consistent second scorer, let alone a third. Only Chris Mihm with eleven joined Kobe in double digits. Brian Cook had nine, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker eight apiece. Kwame Brown went scoreless -- yeah, that's a good #1 pick.

Meanwhile, Elton Brand matched Kobe with another monster game: 32 points, eleven rebounds and four blocked shots. As the (nationally televised) game progressed, the battle of the MVP candidates became the most scintillating of its many storylines. And who won? One word: scoreboard!

And let's not forget about Mobley, who continues to fill up the stat sheet. Cat contributed 22 points on 7-13 FGs, including a couple of bailouts when he got the ball in bad position late in the shot clock and had to jack it up. Cuttino's had good days and bad days, but he's borne a heavy burden on defense -- well -- and still provided a realiable scoring threat, slashing to the basket when the threeball hasn't been falling.

And speaking of the threeball, what can you say about Vlad Rad? The big lug only hit five of eight from the arc -- okay, so one of the misses was an airball -- and you want to talk about stretching defenses? On a night when Chris Wilcox -- who languished behind EB on the Clips' bench -- scored 20 for Seattle, the wisdom of the trade for both teams became clear.

Livingston showed good aggressiveness and posted eight assists with no turnovers in 21 big minutes. Zeljko Rebraca matched Livy with four points and added five boards in fifteen healthy minutes. But it was McCarty who broke out with a walk-in slam dunk and a dagger from downtown in the fourth. Waltah probably didn't expect to see eighteen minutes of action, but he stepped up and gave a great accounting of himself. The crowd went wild and would love to see more of the same.

The atmosphere was electric all night, but the party really started in the third. The Lakers trailed virtually wire to wire but pulled to within two at 62-60 midway through the quarter. Then the Clips stepped up their defense several notches, swarming the Lakers and forcing ten Q3 turnovers (as many as the Clips had all night). The Lakers literally couldn't call a timeout before turning the ball over during a 19-2 run that put the Clips up 81-62 after three. My friend Chucky -- the Laker fan -- turned to me with pleading eyes and whined, "Can we go yet?"

Now -- perhaps using the new motto, "Good teams don't lose six in a row" -- the Clips turn their attention to a Monday night visit from the league-worst Bobcats. The Clips will be without Kaman, Quinton Ross (expected to miss two more weeks with back spasms), and the rapidly improving Maggs, while franchise player Emeka Okafor sits on the Charlotte sideline. 31 is a nice number for ice cream, but with the Clips' tough schedule the rest of the way, they must make Monday win #32.

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

Once again, a great read Jordan. I actually missed this game, I went out to eat with my GF and actually suffered some food posioning as a result. I tried to follow as much as I could from the radio on our way to and from the resturant and then checked in on Clippertalk Forums and NBA.com, but it wasn't until reading you blog did I feel I got clear picture of how the game went.

Keep up the great work. Site traffic is increasing, it's a sign of your good work.

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