PORTLAND, Ore. — The latest Clipper defeat, in a city where they have not won in nearly five years, elicited no snickers from the Portland Trail Blazers or no befuddled looks and creative excuses from the dutifully dejected Clipper players.
It was as if the Clippers accepted their 121-107 setback to the Trail Blazers at the Portland Coliseum as something that always happens to them up here, which basically is true.
The Trail Blazers, playing before a Christmas night sellout crowd of 12,666, racked up their 14th straight home victory over the Clippers, who last experienced the thrill of victory here on Feb. 14, 1981. Who knows when, or if, they'll experience it again.
"It's just more of a psych thing with us," Clipper Coach Don Chaney said. "They (the Trail Blazers) believe they can beat people in this building, and maybe we're thinking we can't."
Veteran guard Norm Nixon said he was not aware of the lengthy Clipper losing streak in Portland, and he didn't seem too crushed when told the news.
"We're the Clippers," Nixon said. "We haven't beaten too many teams on the road (only Sacramento twice, to be exact). . . . A team that wins on the road has to have that killer instinct. You've got to break somebody. You've got to take them down and keep them there. We can't do that--not yet, anyway."
The Clippers, in a mild surprise, had Portland somewhat on the ropes in the first quarter. They led, 33-26, with 1:31 left, but they couldn't sustain it much longer.
Maybe the Clippers remembered where they were and whom they were playing, or maybe Portland's superior talent simply took over. Outscoring the Clippers, 41-22, in the second quarter, the Trail Blazers were able to build a 16-point lead at halftime.
Although Portland's lead wavered somewhat late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, the Trail Blazers never looked worried. They might have been mildly concerned, however, with Clipper forward Marques Johnson's domination. Johnson had a superb game, scoring a game-high 31 points on 14-of-23 shooting from the field and leading the Clippers with 10 rebounds.
Nixon, who had 19 points and 9 assists in 36 minutes, registered his most consistent performance since his return from a 13-game free-agency holdout, and big forward Cedric Maxwell added 17 points and 9 rebounds.
Beyond that, though, the Clippers basically were powerless on offense and defenseless when Portland had the ball.
"You have to stay with Portland, within two or four points, to win here," Chaney said. "You can't let them keep a 10- or 12-point lead all night. That builds their confidence even more. They are a team of spurts. Just when you think you're making headway on them, they start a spurt that kills you."
The Trail Blazers had spurts of 10-2 early in the second and 8-0 late in the second quarter, as well as an 11-2 run to end the game. In between, the Trail Blazers methodically kept their lead in the comfortable 10-point range by taking advantage of fast-break opportunities and beating the Clippers in the low post.
Six Trail Blazers reached double figures, led by Kiki Vandeweghe, who scored 26 points but contributed little else. Mychal Thompson and Sam Bowie, though, each had 11 rebounds to go with 16 and 12 points, respectively.
Portland's reserves outscored the Clipper bench, 45-30. The only effective Clipper reserve was Rory White, who had 13 points.
Defense, not the 14-game losing streak here, was what concerned Chaney this night.
"I wasn't satisfied with out transition defense," Chaney said. "We didn't get back well and we took too many quick shots on offense that allowed them to get the break started.
"Our half-court defense was also sluggish. We didn't move our feet well and we gave them too many easy penetrations to the basket."
That's a nice way of saying that the Clipper inside game let them down once again. Couple that with scant production from the off-guard spot and not much help from the bench, and it's little wonder why Portland found it so easy to dispose of the Clippers again.
Starting center Kurt Nimphius found himself on the bench in foul trouble for most of the game, finally fouling out with 3:03 left after scoring just 6 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Rookie Benoit Benjamin again was ineffective, registering 4 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes.
The problems at off-guard hinge mainly on the condition of Derek Smith's left knee, which is still giving him problems almost six weeks after arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage.
Wednesday, Smith made only his second appearance since the injury and scored five points and had no rebounds in 11 minutes. Junior Bridgeman started for Smith and made 1 of 8 shots.
"I didn't think it would take this long to come back," Smith said. "It is a fun game to play when you're healthy, but right now it's no fun. I feel tentative because I feel pain. I'm doing all the rehab they tell me to do, but it needs time to heal.
"I still say that once the soreness goes away, I'll be back to the way I was."
It's highly unlikely that Smith's transformation will take place before tonight's Clipper game against Philadelphia at the Sports Arena.
Obviously, the Clippers are going to need more production from everyone to win that home game. On the road--well, the Clippers can somewhat accept a loss.
And when that loss comes at Portland, it's almost expected.