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Clippers May Be on Upswing : Their Fortunes Rise as the Nuggets Fall

November 12, 1986|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

You could go crazy trying to figure out the Clippers.

They've been as up and down as a yo-yo.

"Basketball is crazy," Clipper Coach Don Chaney said. "One night you look awful and the next night you look good."

After playing poorly in a 100-93 loss to Cleveland last Saturday, the Clippers bounced back to beat the injury-depleted Denver Nuggets, 115-112, Tuesday night before 5,058 fans at the Sports Arena.

Guard Mike Woodson, filling in for starter Marques Johnson, who was out with a back injury, scored 23 points, including 7 in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers (3-3) overtook Denver.

Center Benoit Benjamin, who made only 3 of 16 shots in the loss to Cleveland, looked like a different player against Denver.

Benjamin had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 35 minutes. He made 6 of 10 shots from the floor and 10 of 11 free throws.

And he also played good defense. Benjamin was assigned to check Denver guard T.R. Dunn. And Dunn failed to score a point in 43 minutes.

"I just took time working on my shots before and after practice," Benjamin said. "I had people talking about how Benoit wasn't blocking shots. The opportunity was there for me to get rebounds and block shots and I went for it. All it is is timing. My timing is still a little off."

Of course, it may have helped because Benjamin was matched on offense against 6-foot 7-inch Nugget "center" Bill Hanzlik, who was playing out of position because of injuries to centers Wayne Cooper and Danny Schayes and forward Calvin Natt. Benjamin made the most of his five-inch height edge.

"I knew he was a small guy and I just wanted to look around and find the open man," Benjamin said. "They tried to help out and put two and three guys on me."

Hanzlik had held his own against 7-1 New York center Bill Cartwright and 7-3 Utah center Mark Eaton, but he couldn't contain Benjamin as the Nuggets (3-3) lost their second straight.

"He (Benjamin) is tough to guard because he just turns and shoots the ball," Hanzlik said. "Those are tough shots. And a lot of them seemed to roll around the rim and went in. I think he must be getting good coaching. He moves around well to get in position."

Point guard Larry Drew had 17 points and 9 assists for the Clippers, while backup center Kurt Nimphius and forward Rory White had 12 points apiece.

Clipper forward Michael Cage, who had grabbed 18 and 13 rebounds, respectively, in his last two games, had another strong night. Cage scored 14 points and hauled down 10 rebounds. The Clippers outrebounded the Nuggets, 51-32.

Alex English, Denver's designated scorer, had 32 points, hitting 14 of 26 shots and all 4 free throws.

Hanzlik added 17 points, Darrell Walker scored 16, Lafayette Leaver had 15 and rookie forward Mark Alarie scored 14.

"We played like (bleep) tonight," Denver Coach Doug Moe said. "This is a gift. That's what it was. We need our big guys.

"We had a chance to win. But we took two of the worst shots we could possibly have taken when we were up. Then they got up. I felt both teams kept letting the other team hang around. Tonight, it was basically two (bleep) teams. It was (a matter of) 'who could give it to the other guy.' "

The Clippers may have won the game at the line. They made 39 of 49 free throws, while Denver was 16 for 21.

The Clippers trailed, 100-96, midway through the fourth quarter, but they outscored Denver, 12-2, to take a 108-102 lead with 3:33 left.

Hanzlik then scored five straight points, hitting a three-point shot from the left corner with 2:13 left and a pair of free throws with 1:45 remaining to cut the Clipper lead to 108-107.

After Woodson made the second of two free throws with 1:28 left, the Nuggets tied it at 109-109 when English sank two free throws with 1:12 remaining.

However, the Clippers kept their poise down the stretch.

Benjamin dunked off a pass from Drew with 54 seconds left, and Woodson followed by making two free throws with 42 seconds remaining. Forward Cedric Maxwell sealed the game for the Clippers when he scored on a drive with 18 seconds to play. Maxwell finished with 13 points, including 10 in the second half.

The Clippers got some bad news before the game.

Johnson, the Clippers' captain and leading scorer, was sidelined because of back spasms. He was injured last Saturday when he fell in the game against Cleveland.

"I had a feeling today he wouldn't be able to play," Chaney said. "He could barely move in the shoot-around this morning. We sent him to the doctor, and he had an injection. And he went home to rest.

"Hopefully he'll be able to play in Utah (Thursday) and Portland (Friday)."

Clipper Notes

The Clippers signed free-agent Geoff Huston Tuesday. They waived rookie guard Dwayne Polee to make room for the 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard. Huston, who will wear number 15 with the Clippers, averaged 4.2 points and 4.2 assists in 82 games with the Golden State Warriors last season. He was waived last summer. "I think Geoff is going to help us," Coach Don Chaney said. "He'll be affected by (lack) of stamina and his timing will be off. He's going to get a crash course in our offense tonight." Huston entered Tuesday night's game at the start of the second period. . . . The Clippers say they may be interested in acquiring former UCLA star Kenny Fields, who was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. "If he clears waivers, I'd like to see him," Chaney said of Fields. . . . The Clippers play Thursday at Utah and Friday at Portland and return Sunday to play the Philadelphia 76ers at 7 p.m. at the Sports Arena. The game against the 76ers will be televised locally by Channel 5.

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