The Clippers may be so used to adversity that they have trouble handling success.
After beating the Phoenix Suns Friday night to break a 21-game road losing streak, the Clippers had a chance to win consecutive games for the first time in two seasons.
However, they gave this one away to the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers wasted a 16-point third-quarter lead and lost, 97-91, Saturday night before 6,131 fans at the Sports Arena.
The Nuggets trailed, 64-48, with 6:26 left in the third quarter but outscored the Clippers, 28-10, to take a 76-74 lead with 10:37 left in the game.
The Clippers, who scored only 17 points in the fourth quarter, were trailing, 91-87, when Quintin Dailey banked a shot off the glass to slice the Denver lead to 91-89 with 2:04 remaining.
The Nuggets missed four successive shots before the Clippers regained possession following a shot by guard Lafayette (Fat) Lever that bounced over the glass.
Then a call by veteran official Jack Madden proved costly as Clipper forward Michael Cage had a basket taken away when he was hit with an offensive foul with 45 seconds left. Madden ruled that Cage ran over Calvin Natt.
Cage, backing into Natt, banked in a shot before he fell down. However, Madden ruled that Natt had established position and called Cage for charging.
"It was a terrible call," said Cage, who fouled out on the play. "He (Natt) had me by the jersey, and when I jumped up, I fell backwards, and he (Madden) called the offensive foul.
"It was a tough break. I thought I had gotten the call, and the basket was good."
Obviously, Natt saw the play differently than Cage, saying he didn't hold Cage.
"It was a charge," Natt said. "He just jumped into me. It was a call that the home team usually gets, but it was too obvious."
Clipper Coach Gene Shue said of the foul on Cage: "I wasn't paying that much attention to it because I was so involved in the game. What really hurt us was that Michael got into foul trouble in the third period, and we didn't have a player who could take over for him.
"We're not a good offensive team, and when you take away our best post-up player, how do you score? It was critical for us to lose Michael."
Madden also called a technical foul on Cage after he disputed his fifth foul with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Lever had a triple double as the Nuggets (6-3) won their second straight game to move into a first-place tie with the Houston Rockets in the Midwest Division.
Lever had 15 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds.
Forward Dan Schayes scored 14 points and had 6 rebounds. Schayes, who had 6 points in the final period, scored 4 points in the final 24 seconds, hitting a layin and a pair of free throws.
Forward Alex English, who was averaging 25.7 points coming into the game, was held to just 13 points.
Jay Vincent came off the bench to score 13 points in the second half, and Natt also had 13 points, including 6 in the final period.
T.R. Dunn had 10 points, including 8 in the third quarter, as the Nuggets got back into the game.
"We played tough defense early," Dunn said. "But we couldn't make the shots. In the second half we kept our defense the same, and the shot started dropping."
Said Denver Coch Doug Moe of Dunn: "T.R. Dunn is a game-winner, and we've been winning ever since installing him into the starting lineup (in place of David Thompson) I don't know how many years ago."
The Clippers, who lost to the Nuggets by 46 points in their season-opener in Denver Nov. 6, did almost everything right except win.
They held Denver, which was the highest-scoring team in the NBA coming into the game, to just 39 points in the first half. And they limited English, one of the league's top scorers, to 3 points in the second half.
However, the Nuggets, who scored just 17 points in the second quarter and trailed, 51-39, at halftime, outplayed the Clippers in the second half.
"The Clippers took some awful shots near the end," Moe said. "The Clippers are a team to be reckoned with. They're not a great team, but they're all right."
Guard Mike Woodson led the Clippers (3-6) with 23 points and 5 assists. "It was a really tough one to lose," Woodson said. "We led for almost the entire game, and then they came right back and won."
Center Benoit Benjamin, who had been playing consistent basketball this season, scored 18 points and grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds. He also had 2 blocked shots.
Rookie forward Joe Wolf also played well in place of Reggie Williams, who missed his second straight game due to the flu. Wolf scored 16 points, hauled down 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. Cage had 13 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out.
Trainer Bernie LaReau said forward Reggie Williams, who has missed the Clippers' last two games due to the flu, may return for Tuesday night's game against the Golden State Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. The Clippers beat Golden State, 97-94, last week at the Sports Arena. Ex-Milwaukee Bucks Coach Don Nelson, the Warriors' new executive vice president, scouted Saturday night's game. . . . The Clippers return home to play the Washington Bullets Wednesday night. They play at Portland Friday night.