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Thursday, March 02, 2006 

EASY AS WIN-2-3 FOR CLIPS

Like a bad actor, the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets refused to follow the script. It was Elton Brand Bobblehead Night at Staples Center. It was Hardwood Classics Night. It was supposed to be one long party for Clipper fans. But four minutes into the third quarter, Byron Scott's front line of P.J. Brown, David West and (tonight's Clipper All-Star) Desmond Mason had exposed the Chris Kaman-less Clips' lack of interior defense en route to a 59-49 lead that threatened to rewrite the happy ending.

That's when Coach Dunleavy implemented a 2-3 half-court zone, and for the Hornets, time stood still. 59-49 became 59-52, 59-55, 59-56, 59-57, 59-59, 59-61, 59-62, 59-64, 59-66, 59-68, 59-70, 59-71, 59-72, 59-74. The Hornets, who don't play again until Monday, will have five long, sleepless nights to see the number 59 in their nightmares. They didn't score for 12:41 of playing time and went without a basket for 14:19. After shooting 55% in the first half, they shot under 15% (5 of 34) in the second to set a shot-clock era record for fewest points in a half with sixteen. The Clips won the last twenty minutes, 40-8, and the game, 89-67.

The Clips have been a good third quarter team all season, but never this good. During their historic defensive stand, they clogged the lane and forced the Hornets to take tough outside shots. How tough? The Hornets shot 0.0% (0 of 9) from the arc. Anytime the Bees tried to penetrate in the paint, the Clips' bigs shut them down. On several possessions the official scorer had his choice of three or four Clips to credit with a block. If you love great, smothering defense as I do -- I'd take it over highlight-reel dunks any day -- be sure to record the game when FSN2 re-airs it at 1 p.m. Thursday.

EB led the way offensively on his night with 25 and 7 on 61.1% FGs. Sam Cassell contributed fifteen and Cuttino Mobley fourteen on more mediocre shooting. Vladimir Radmanovic had eight, all in the first few minutes, but added nine rebounds and five assists after Mason took him out of the offense with two early fouls.

Zeljko Rebraca, subbing for Kaman at the starting 5, posted seven points, as did Walter McCarty, whose energy and veteran savvy fueled the Clips' defensive run. Waltah's seven boards helped the Clips come back from an almost double-digit deficit in that department to outrebound Oklahoma City 41-37. Shaun Livingston turned in a solid performance at both ends of the court, finishing with eight points (on 66.7% shooting), five assists, four blocks and three rebounds.

With the win, the Clips sweep the three-game homestand to improve their home record to 20-9, seventh-best in the NBA (as is their RW-HL mark of +4). They owe the road two games (Phoenix owes the road six) and will give one back Friday night at Utah, another longtime house of horrors. The nationally televised jam with the Jazz will mark the return of Corey Maggette. Quinton Ross may also suit up and it's possible, though unlikely, that Kaman could be back. Given the caliber of opponent they'll face when they get back home (Memphis and San Antonio), the Clips must find a way to distill a win in Salt Lake.

Quick thoughts: ...If the Clips hadn't scored in the fourth, they'd still have won -- by one...On Dec. 14, the Clips' 89 points made for a thirteen-point loss in OKC. The same 89 points tonight were good enough for a 22-point win...If Dunleavy and Scott remain in the COTY race at season's end, Dun's supporters can point to tonight's game as Exhibit A...Click on ClipperTalk and join the discussion! -- Jordan


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