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

Friday, February 24, 2006 

Video - Livingston around the back to Brand

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

CLIPPERS COME BACK TO PACK

Two pieces of good news from the Clippers' "Texas Two-Step" through Dallas and Houston: 1) Most importantly, it's over. 2.) The Clips covered the spread both nights. Unless you had action, though (or got a little on the side), you probably cried in your Cheerios this morning. Two heartbreakers in a row can do that to you.

Whereas the Clippers had chances to take late leads against the Mavericks, the Rockets kept just far enough in front to prevent any last-second heroics. The Clippers pulled to within four thrice in the final frame but would get no closer as the Rockets held on for the 106-102 victory, their eleventh in the last twelve with the Clips. Each Clipper on the court blew at least one big play down the stretch.

The problems that plagued the Clippers during the dog days of late December and early January have returned with a vengeance. With Quinton Ross out, L.A. allowed Houston to shoot 48.1% from the field -- hardly what Peter Scolari on Newhart would call a "co-inky-dink." The Rockets considerably outrebounded the Clippers (12-33-45 vs. 10-26-36). Sam Cassell shot 6-18 overall and 0-4 behind the arc, reminiscent of games when I wrote he was "singlehandedly killing" the Clips. Chris Kaman continues to wilt against legitimate opposing centers, his 11 and 7 paling in comparison with Yao Ming's 29 and 15.

Thus did the Clippers waste Cuttino Mobley's best effort of the year (30 points including 5-7 3FGs) and another monster game from Elton Brand (32 and 12 with a pair each of assists, steals and blocked shots). The Clipper All-Star of the Game: role player David Wesley, who torched the Clips for 21 on 8-10 shooting (4-4 2FGs, 4-6 3FGs) -- good enough to shut my mouth if not Sam's.

All eyes now turn downtown for tomorrow night's matchup with the hated Lakers. It's the opener of a three-game homestand that will also bring the Bobcats and Hornets to Staples Center. Beating the Lakers is always big, but it's almost mandatory at this point. The Clippers must stop the bleeding from a season-long five-game slump.

My friend Chucky has the same season seats for the Lakers I have for the Clips (although he pays about four times the price), and we take each other to the Clipper-Laker games. Since it's a Clipper home game, he's taking me to Engine Co. No. 28, a cool restaurant in a converted firehouse on Figueroa north of 7th St. If you've never been, they make good drinks, a great cheeseburger and awesome onion rings. But they only run their shuttle to Staples for -- boo, hiss -- Laker home games.

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

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


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