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Wednesday, April 05, 2006 

CLIPS MIGHT JUST HALF A CHANCE

A great second half of defense made up for a historically awful first half and allowed the Clips to make the third-biggest comeback in their history and hold on to defeat the Denver Nuggets, 111-109, last night at Staples Center. With the win, the Clips move 3.5 games ahead of the Nuggets, take the season series, 3-1, and will likely hold home court if the teams meet in the first round.

In the first half, the Nuggets drove, drilled and dunked their way to the best-shooting first half in recorded NBA history, hitting 81.6% on 31 field goals off 26 assists. They scored 38 and 39 points in the first two quarters against absolutely no resistance whatsoever from the Clippers.

But after Coach Dunleavy chewed the team a new [butt]hole at halftime (a far less exciting activity since Marko Jaric left town), the Clips applied the clamps, holding the Nuggets to 16 points in each of the final two frames. Shaun Livingston and Quinton Ross led the way, Q finally frustrating Carmelo Anthony into throwing the ball into the stands with 1:11 to play and the game still up for grabs. The resulting free throws -- misses by Dunleavy's handpicked replacement, Reggie Evans, and a technical FT by Sam Cassell -- provided the razor-thin margin of victory.

Both teams had chances to win in the closing moments, but by hanging on through the frantic finish, the Clips earned the most important win of their remaining schedule. Given the disparity between their schedules, the Clips and Memphis should exchange seedings within the week (keep in mind that the Grizz haven't won in Denver in forever and want no part of the Nugz). I'm fairly confident that the Clips can stave off the Lakers and avoid dropping to the 7 spot.

If they play their cards right -- doing just enough to avoid the perception of tanking games while giving their key veterans ample rest down the stretch -- they should be well positioned to give a good account of themselves in round one. If nothing else, they're now in the Nuggets' heads. As Michael Eaves reported, he asked them whom they wished to face in the first round, and to a man, the Nuggets answered, "We don't want to play the Clippers." Nice!

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POSTSCRIPT: Tonight's game in Phoenix was a variation on the theme of second-half defense. Against the Suns, the Clips actually erased an 11-point lead before halftime, leading 59-55 at the break en route to an unlikely 119-105 victory in the absence of floor leader Cassell.

Livingston and Ross were the story again tonight. Shaun finished three rebounds shy of a triple-double at 12-7-13 in 36 great, growth-enhancing minutes. Q Ross held Livy's Canadian counterpart, Steve Nash, in check with just nine points and five assists. Elton Brand returned to first-half form with a monster 34-15 double-double. Corey Maggette had a 23-10 double-double and just two turnovers in 28 minutes, while Chris Kaman and Vladimir Radmanovic both fell a board shy at 11-9 and Ross and Cuttino Mobley contributed 12 points apiece. The Clips clicked on all cylinders, connecting on 54.8% FGs (55.6% 3FGs), outrebounding the Suns, 52-37, and only turning the ball over 12 times.

That's the good news. Now, the bad news: These two unexpected wins will make it a bit harder to drop inconspicuously to the 6 spot. They're now 1.5 up on Memphis with two weeks to play. They've got to start losing some ballgames. Fortunately, Friday night brings just what the doctor ordered: a visit to Staples from the Sacramento Kings, whose ownership of the Clippers extends three seasons without a loss. Knowing what they need, I might even stick around for the second half of that one.

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


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