Since being traded from the Lakers to the Clippers two years ago, Norm Nixon has spent more nights than he'd care to remember on the losing end of lopsided games. Showtime, it seemed, had been forever replaced by garbage time.
But on Monday night, Nixon rediscovered the unbridled joy of being on the winning side of a blowout game. He enjoyed perhaps his best overall game of the season in the Clippers' resounding 136-116 victory over the Detroit Pistons before a stunned crowd of 8,690 at the Sports Arena.
"It was a great feeling, and it's been so long," said Nixon, who had 20 points and a career-high 21 assists. "It was good to sit back on the bench in the fourth quarter and look up at the scoreboard and enjoy it. All I remember recently is sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter losing by 20."
Although Nixon and most other Clipper players wouldn't admit it, they had to be shocked at the ease with which they handled the Pistons. Utilizing an effective half-court trap, a multitide of fast breaks and hot shooting, the Clippers built a 32-point lead early in the fourth quarter before breezing to the win.
Clearly, this one belonged in the Anything-Can-Happen-In-The-NBA file. The Clippers had lost 13 of their previous 14 games, including a dismal nine-point debacle Sunday night against Golden State. They seemed primed for another blowout loss to the Pistons, who have been trying to gear up for the playoffs.
It didn't figure to be close, and it wasn't. But nobody figured that Clipper rookie forward Michael Cage would score a career-high 22 points, or that Nixon would dominate Isiah Thomas en route to 21 assists, or that the normally cold-shooting Clippers would make 61.7% of their shots.
"What happened," Clipper guard Derek Smith said, "was that everyone had a good game at the same time. When that happens, you're going to win."
That might be an oversimplification, but it's accurate. And it's basically the same reason interim Coach Don Chaney gave for the surprising win.
"We had good cooperation and help from everyone," Chaney said. "We played strong the whole game. The defense was great. We forced them into turnovers and bad shots. Last night (against Golden State) was a nightmare. Tonight, I felt, was a reality for us."
You would have had to search hard to find fault with the Clippers' performance Monday. Sure, they commited 22 turnovers, but most of those occurred after the Clippers had built a comfortable lead.
All told, the Clipper had six players in double figures. In addition to Cage's 22 and Nixon's 20, they also received 20 apiece from Smith and Junior Bridgeman, 15 from Bill Walton and 11 from James Donaldson. The only regular not to hit double figures was Marques Johnson, who barely missed with 9 points.
On a night of surprises, Cage's performance was the most pleasant surprise to Chaney. Cage has seemed tentative and lost on the court at times in his rookie season, but he showed none of those signs Monday.
"A lot of people expected a lot of things from Cage and he hasn't responded," Chaney said. "But he's still a rookie. For Michael to succeed, he has to be aggressive and have confidence. He had that tonight."
So, too, did the rest of the Clippers.
"This was maybe the first time all season we played the way we, management, the coaches and fans expected us to play all along," Smith said. "We should enjoy this one but keep trying to play like this."
Laughter, a foreign sound in the Clipper locker room this season, was at full volume Monday night. It was quite a contrast to the eerie silence that was present after Sunday's Golden State loss.
Certainly, the Clippers had much to celebrate. The 20-point spread was the Clippers' biggest margin of victory this season and they also set a season-high for most points in a game.
Conversely, this had to rate as one of Detroit's worst performances of an erratic season. No one on the Pistons played particularly well, although Kelly Tripucka had 20 points and Thomas 14 points and 13 assists.
If it's any consolation to the Pistons, they'll still be going to the playoffs and the Clippers won't. But the Clippers still have something to play for, most notably their jobs and Chaney's coaching status.
"Hopefully, we'll keep playing this way," Nixon said. "We ran tonight, were able to get the ball to the outlets quickly and rotated on the (defensive) trap like Don wanted us to. We've blown this season, but it's important that we end the season strong."
Clipper Notes Forward Harvey Catchings' bone spur in his right heel flared up again after Sunday's loss to Golden State. He missed Monday's game and is questionable for Wednesday's game against Utah at the Sports Arena. . . . A new feature the last two games has been the "Clipper Ladies," a dancing troupe that is supposed to be the Clippers' answer to the Laker girls. If the "Clipper Ladies" look familiar, they should; they are the recently fired Los Angeles Express cheerleaders. After being ousted by the Express, the group approached the Clippers and was given a tryout. . . . Recently acquired guard Franklin Edwards changed numbers again. When he joined the Clippers on the road last week, he wore number 30. In the last two games at the Sports Arena, he wore number 9. Monday night, it was number 14. Apparently, this number will stick because Edwards' name finally has been stitched on the back of the jersey.