Thursday, April 13, 2006 

HOW SWEEP IT IS FOR CLIPS

Finally, a team the Clippers can beat. The Trail Blazers took the positives, but the Clips took the W last night at Staples Center, 97-93, completing the first season sweep of Portland in their history in too-close-for-comfort fashion. With the victory, the team equals a Clipper record for most wins with 45.

Brad Gilbert would be proud, because the Clips won this one ugly. They allowed 45.6% shooting by a balanced Blazer attack that saw eight men score seven or more points. Portland competed evenly with the playoff-bound Clips in most categories in a game that featured four ties and 15 lead changes.

Elton Brand led the way for L.A. with 25 points on 12-16 shooting, evoking memories of the E.B. who was a first-half contender for league MVP. Sam Cassell posted a 19-point, 10-assist double-double on poor shooting, while Chris Kaman contributed 14 and 11 but continued to put the ball on the floor unnecessarily. Cuttino Mobley, overdue for a good game, made 3-4 FGs and 7-8 FTs for 13.

Afterward, Nate McMillan said, "I do respect the way this team played tonight. These young guys came out and fought and played together. All the things we've been talking about all season long. We got that tonight." Mike Dunleavy, meanwhile, bemoaned his veterans' inconsistency and lack of toughness. A win's a win, but we'd all like to see more energy and better execution, greater urgency and a sense of purpose with the playoffs nigh at hand and Corey Maggette out indefinitely with a herniated disc.

Still, the Clips sit in the catbird seat at sixth, .5 games behind Memphis and 1.5 games ahead of Denver for home court. With the Nuggets' loss last night in Utah, they'll need two more wins in their last three (vs. SAC, vs. HOU, @ SEA) than the Clips cull in their final four (@ SEA, vs. SEA, @ MEM, @ DAL). A sweep of Seattle would secure home court if the Clips stay at 6, but Chris Wilcox's Sonics -- with recent wins over San Antonio, Phoenix and Memphis -- aren't the same team the Clips last faced three months ago to the day.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

CLIPPERS FIND NEW GEAR FOR PLAYOFFS: REVERSE

This team's in trouble, folks. Forget about rolling into the playoffs; the Clippers are limping -- slouching -- to the finish line and playing several notches below any other playoff team in the West. After last night's 75-73 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center, the Clippers are firmly and finally entrenched in the 6 spot and will have to raise their level appreciably to retain home court.

A rash of injuries to key players -- and the extreme fatigue of others -- haven't helped the Clippers' cause. As Blanche once told Dorothy on The Golden Girls, "Good grief -- this place looks like a hospital ward!" Corey Maggette missed his third consecutive game with back spasms (about which more below), while Sam Cassell (flu) and Vladimir Radmanovic (groin) made cameo appearances so short not even Dame Judi Dench could wring an Oscar nomination out of them.

The extended minutes played by Elton Brand and Cuttino Mobley throughout the season have come back to haunt both men. Brand scored 13 points on 4-15 shooting, while Mobley missed nine of his 13 attempts for 10 points. They're both running on fumes, and Cat's recent ankle sprain continues to give him discomfort. If you're willing to concede home court to Denver, maybe you start resting these guys now.

As the final score indicates, the game was so ugly you'd think the New York Knicks had to be involved somehow. But Avery Johnson sounded happier than an exaltation of larks to sneak out of Staples with a win on a night when Dirk Nowitzki shot 6-19, Josh Howard 3-13, and Jerry Stackhouse 2-11.

The Clippers came out with great defensive intensity, building a 12-point advantage and leading 26-17 after one. But the Mavericks won the second quarter 33-14 and held a 50-40 halftime edge. The Clippers fought back valiantly to tie the game at 73 on a Shaun Livingston free throw with 17 seconds to play, but Nowitzki hit a last-second 18-footer to put the Mavs ahead 3-0 in the season series.

Without fueling the reckless rumors that Maggette's injury is actually a bad case of hurt feelings by a unwilling sixth man (which would make Maggs a Bigger Baby than a shrewdness of Glen Davises), at best it's poorly timed. To wrest home court back from the Clippers, Denver needs only one more win in their final four games (UTA, SAC, HOU and SEA) than the Clips collect in their last five (POR, SEA x 2, MEM and DAL). One thing's for sure: 73 points won't beat anybody.

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

Monday, April 10, 2006 

LAKERS ARE FAR SUPERIOR TO CLIPPERS

As only this franchise of failure could, the Clippers turned what should have been a weekend of celebration into sheer misery for their fans. After needing another team to lose to clinch their first playoff berth in almost a decade, the Clippers sent their faithful home unhappy not once but twice, giving away a rivalry game they had firmly in hand Friday, then not showing up for another last night. The Lakers claimed city bragging rights for the summer with a complete 100-83 domination of a Clippers squad that looked every bit the part of a Staples Center subtenant.

It seemed as though the Clippers physically shrank following their incredible loss to the Kings. Elton Brand posted another double-double, but had to work much harder for his 24 and 10 -- and shoot from farther out -- than Lamar Odom did for his 23 and 15. After witnessing E.B.'s involvement in at least half a dozen failed fast breaks last night, I split the blame equally between Elton and the teammates who kept putting him in situations where he clearly does not excel.

Chris Kaman fared far worse, picking up a foul in the first minute of play and two more by the midway point of the second quarter. Chris ended with 8 and 11, while his Laker counterpart Kwame Brown posted 9 and 8. Vis-a-vis what each was asked and expected to bring, Kwame won the battle at center. To borrow from an old PSA, this is Kaman's brain off drugs -- any questions?

Sam Cassell scored 24 points on 10-20 shooting but had no more assists (four) than Brand. Sam's looking for his shot way too much and not getting his teammates involved enough. He's also taking too many threes, going 2-8 last night. Vladimir Radmanovic went 1-5 from downtown (2-9 overall) and Cuttino Mobley 0-3. In the words of Stu Lantz, 18.8% 3FGs "will not get it done."

The Clippers signed Cat to that fat $42 million contract with visions of bingos in April and May. They traded Chris Wilcox for Vladi for the express purpose of stretching opposing defenses. But until some of these halftime heroes who can't miss in practice start translating it to game time, the Clippers will remain easy to play against in the absence of a legitimate outside threat.

Quinton Ross defended Kobe Bryant beautifully, but was limited to 27 minutes; mostly in the other 21, Bryant (who played all but 39 seconds) struck for 38 points, four below his season average against the Clippers. Odom's breakout game and another impressive performance by Luke Walton (13 and 7 on 6-10 FGs) provided all the support he needed.

The Lakers outscored the Clippers everywhere -- in the paint, at the arc, on the fastbreak, at the charity stripe where they took half again as many free throws. The Lakers were more active and aggressive, pressuring the ball upcourt, jumping into passing lanes, clogging the post, generating 17 Clipper turnovers. At times the Clippers appeared literally to hand the ball over. Shaun Livingston in particular looked like he'd mistakenly sat down at the grown folks' table for Thanksgiving dinner.

Call me Cassandra if you wish. I understand that these two losses (the Mavericks are favored to make it three tonight) aren't the end of the world. The Clippers remain .5 games ahead of Memphis and 1.5 up on Denver for home court in a prospective first-round series. But yet again in games their fans wanted desperately to win, the Clippers wilted. Like Jack Lemmon's clients the Nyborgs in Glengarry Glen Ross, they "kind of imperceptibly slumped."

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


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