LANDOVER, Md. — So horrendous was the Clippers' play here Monday night in a 90-77 loss to the Washington Bullets that forward Cedric Maxwell actually shuddered when asked to explain what happened this time.
"Ugh," Maxwell said. "This was The Return of the Dead. Halloween IV. The Game That Will Never Go Away. Man, it was horrible."
In a continuation of a nightmare that really has never ceased for Coach Don Chaney--or is it Lon Chaney?--the Clippers ended a dismal seven-game Eastern trip with a real horror show.
On the surface, and in the box score, this seemed to be just another Clipper loss, even though the 77-point output equaled their season low. They have lost 27 of 39 this season and finished this trip to nowhere by losing 6 of 7 games.
But Chaney thought Monday's loss was the worst of the season--no small statement considering the Clippers have suffered 40- and 39-point humiliations about a month ago. For the Bullets, who play a slow-tempo game, a 13-point victory is a blowout.
Little wonder Chaney says he hasn't slept well lately.
"By far, this was the worst game I've ever seen us play," he said.
"We couldn't catch the ball. We couldn't pass the ball. We couldn't shoot it. We couldn't play defense. Also, I thought Washington played very poorly. . . . A game like this you try to just scratch off the book, as if it didn't happen."
But it did happen. Again.
And it is clear that unless the Clippers do something drastic, or suddenly and unexpectedly make a complete reversal in effort and performance, they will continue playing in such an unsightly fashion.
General Manager Carl Scheer, slumped in a corner of the locker room afterward, would not talk about any aspect of the game or team. Last week, though, he said major personnel moves have to be made.
It is known that Scheer is seriously considering acquiring point guard Darnell Valentine from Portland, although he said before the game he had not talked to Portland on Monday. But, after watching the Clippers commit a season-high 31 turnovers and receive a total of only 18 points from their five guards, he probably rushed to the telephone.
It would be unfair, however, to lay full blame on the guards. The big men were equally responsible for the Clippers' 39% shooting from the floor. Surprisingly, the best Clipper on this night was 7-foot rookie Benoit Benjamin, who had 11 points, a season-high 17 rebounds and actually blocked one of 7-foot 7-inch Manute Bol's shots.
But even Chaney found fault with Benjamin's play. "I thought Ben could have given us better effort," he said.
Benjamin, certainly, gave Chaney more than other Clippers.
Marques Johnson had an excuse. Johnson's badly bruised left knee prevented him from going full speed, and it resulted in only six points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. Johnson will have his knee checked today in Los Angeles to determine the extent of the injury.
But how do you explain Norm Nixon making 2 of 10 shots, Franklin Edwards 2 of 7, Lancaster Gordon 0 of 4 and Junior Bridgeman 3 of 7? How to explain Benjamin's 6 turnovers, Maxwell's 5, and 4 each by Nixon and Kurt Nimphius?
"The game speaks for itself," Chaney said. "No excuses."
Check that, the Clippers did come up with one. Chaney and a few players said the basket closest to the Clipper bench was two inches shorter than the regulation 10 feet.
"We shot at that (basket) in the second and fourth quarters," Chaney said.
But that proved to be no excuse, either. The Clippers' worst quarter was the third. They scored only 13 points--three in the last four minutes. Despite the fact that Washington went 7 minutes 5 seconds of the quarter without making a basket (the Bullets did score on three Benjamin goal-tending calls), the Clippers still found themselves entering the fourth quarter trailing by 16.
If not for a flurry of points in the final four minutes of the game, the Clippers would have had their least productive game of the season.
That was no consolation to Clipper players, most of whom agreed that it was the worst loss of the trip but not of the season.
Said Johnson: "It was right up there with the others. We took 10 giant steps backward."
Nixon: "We've had some pretty bad ones. . . . If it was time for us to get some wins, it was on this road trip. We played some of the weakest teams in the league."
Not as weak as the Clippers, though. They lost to Cleveland by 19, Indiana by 29, Atlanta by 14, Philadelphia by 2, Chicago by 9 and Washington by 13. Strangely, the only win came against New Jersey, arguably the best team the Clippers faced on the trip.
The final words, as usual, were delivered by Maxwell.
"I'm not going to talk about a game tonight that was beyond description," he said. "No need to dwell on the negative. Weird, but we're not that far away from the playoffs (3 1/2 games out). Anybody can sneak into the playoffs. That's our goal."
At this point, it may be an unrealistic one.