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Saturday, April 08, 2006 

CLIPPERS ARE CHOKING DOGS, KINGS THEIR OWNERS AND MASTERS

If the Sacramento Kings are "queens," then the Clippers are mere court jesters. They played the fool again Friday night at Staples Center, coughing up a late four-point lead in a 96-93 loss, their thirteenth in a row against Rick Adelman's team. Those attending their first game of the year could be forgiven for calling them the "same old Clippers" after a choke job redolent of decades of failure. Sacramento's embarrassing and humiliating ownership of them will hang over the Clippers all summer regardless of whatever else happens and will make each game in next season's series much harder to win. The Clippers will aspire to greater accomplishments going forward and cannot allow a division rival to pencil in four sure wins a year.

The box score reads remarkably even and many categories favor the Clippers. The teams shot field goals at an almost identical rate (SAC 44%, LAC 43.7%). The Clips dominated the boards (11-41-52 to 9-27-36), limited their turnovers to 12, and outblocked the Kings 9-1. Six Clips scored in double figures and a seventh -- Chris Kaman -- had nine. But Sacramento took more than twice as many free throws (36 to 17), and who would have thought they would establish better inside position and get easier looks for baskets?

The Kings also connected on 7-15 3FGs to 3-17 for the Clippers. Cuttino Mobley made 1-3, Sam Cassell 1-6 (about which more below), and Vladimir Radmanovic a horrific 1-8. The man must have taken 50 threes at halftime and may have missed two. Why were his first two shots of the second half two-pointers? He missed those, lost his rhythm, and obviously didn't regain it from downtown.

Nevertheless, the Clips scratched and clawed their way to a 91-87 lead when, with under two minutes remaining, Kaman pulled down the rebound of a missed Elton Brand jumper and got it out to Cassell. But rather than running the clock or a set play, Sam jacked up a tough three that clanged off the rim. "Here you go, Sacramento," said the savvy veteran who's going to teach our youngsters how to win in pressure situations, "we're going to give you extra possessions and extra time."

Shortly thereafter, Radmanovic missed a defensive rotation as badly as any professional ever has, leaving Ron Artest alone in a ten-foot force field. His threeball tied the game with 1:10 to play; his fade-away jumper with 0:34 left put the Kings up for good. During that stretch, Brand missed another turnaround J and a free throw, Cassell missed another three, Kaman missed another flying hook shot, and Mobley missed the first of two potentially tying FTs. Sound like a meltdown? Try Kilauea.

In other news, the Clips clinched a playoff spot with the Hornets' loss tonight in Dallas. They're now .5 games ahead of Memphis for the fifth seed and will likely drop to the 6 spot this week. Remember that the Grizzlies haven't won in Denver in forever and want no part of the Nugz; I'm sure both teams will do what it takes to assume their preferred positions.

If the Clippers and Nuggets do match up in round one, L.A. will hold home-court advantage unless Denver wins two more games in its last five than the Clips win in their last seven. That seems unlikely, as does the possibility of either the Lakers or Kings catching up to the Clips. Even though they gave away for the first time a game they had in hand, last night's loss -- however frustrating -- is livable in the long run.

Click on Clipper Talk and join the discussion. -- Jordan

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