NEW YORK--On the Clippers' ever-expanding list of blowout defeats, Monday night's 117-91 loss to the New York Knicks before 9,938 at Madison Square Garden might not have rated as the worst.
Still, after an utterly dismal performance against a last-place team that was playing without injured leading scorer Bernard King and with a 6-9 rookie center named Ken Bannister, the Clippers were embarrassed. At the same time, they took the loss reasonably well, probably because they are getting used to such indignities.
Add this one to the Clippers' 29-point loss to Denver in November, the 32-point loss to San Antonio in December, the 20-point loss to Kansas City in January and . . . well, you get the idea.
"If you could give me a few minutes, I could give you some worse games than this one," said guard Norm Nixon, flashing an agonizing smile. "We've had about two or three games like this, at least. (But) this was a bad night. I know this is the NBA and it's only one game, but I'm really embarrassed.
"My family was out there tonight and I hope they aren't going ask questions, but I know they are. I don't even want to talk about basketball. Just give me a few beers."
The Clippers, it seems, need a lot more than that. Monday's loss, the Clippers' fourth straight, lowered their record to 19-26. And it happened in front of General Manager Carl Scheer, who broke his usual pattern and failed to visit the locker room afterward.
Maybe Sheer was too embarrassed to make an appearance. Or perhaps he headed directly to a telephone to try to make a deal before tonight's Clipper game at Cleveland (4:30 PST).
Clearly, there was no redeeming value in this Clipper performance, and you have to wonder how much longer Scheer can wait before making changes.
Not surprisingly, this was the most lopsided win of the season for the Knicks, who still occupy last place in the Atlantic Division with a 17-29 record.
The Knicks, who started three front-line players who all measure 6-9--Bannister, Pat Cummings and Louis Orr--held a 47-37 rebounding edge over the Clippers, who had the height edge with 7-2 James Donaldson, 6-11 Bill Walton and 6-5 Junior Bridgeman. Marques Johnson (sprained ankle) and Michael Cage (flu) did not play.
Cummings, who came to the Knicks last summer as a free agent, had a career-high 32 points (14 of 21 from the field) and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Reserve guard Butch Carter had a career in one night with 20 points and Orr added 16.
But the Clippers' lack of inside dominance was the least of their transgressions.
They buckled under the Knicks' half-court trap, committing 23 turnovers. Derek Smith, the Clippers' leading scorer with 27 points, had nine turnovers, only six less than the entire Knick team. When the Knicks' trap didn't cause a turnover, it forced the Clippers to rush outside shots instead of working the ball inside.
"A good high school team could've came in here tonight and handled their press better than we did," Smith said. "That's what beat us. If we could've set up and passed the ball to Bill or James, it might have been different."
It wasn't only New York's effective half-court trap--the reason Coach Jim Lynam gave--that did in the Clippers. They seemed to be playing at half-speed most of the game.
"I can't speak for the rest of the guys, but I felt horrible out there. Real tired," Smith said. "I told Junior (Bridgeman) at halftime that I felt so tired, and he said the same thing. Everybody was moving so slowly."
After losing to Philadelphia by seven points Saturday night at the Sports Arena, the Clippers left for New York Sunday morning and practiced that night.
"That probably had something to do with it, the long flight and all," Smith said.
Lynam: "All we had was a one-hour shoot-around last night. That's it. All we did was shoot. I don't think you could use that as an excuse in a game like we played tonight. . . . It was a very, very poor game for us. I have no problem with their effort. It just gets frustrating when you keep turning over the ball and aren't hitting your jumpers."
Frustration has definitely set in among Clipper players. With less than half the season left, they have shown no significant or lasting improvement.
"We're at a point now where we have to watch ourselves and not point fingers and spread the blame," Nixon said. "It's not early in the season. But it's not too late, either. We can still come around and win games."
Guard Norm Nixon was voted to the Western Conference All-Star team by the coaches. Derek Smith, the Clippers' leading scorer, was left off. . . . Marques Johnson dressed for Monday's game but after warming up decided to sit out again. "I'd like to say I'll be ready for tomorrow night, but I don't know. Tonight, in warmups, I felt really sore." . . . Bernard King is expected to miss at least one more game with his sprained right ankle. . . . Clipper forward Michael Cage stayed in Los Angeles with the flu. It isn't known if he will join the team on the trip, which concludes Thursday at New Jersey.