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Benjamin Again Earns a Spot on Bench in 98-82 Loss to Bucks

January 06, 1988|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE — The Clippers lost their seventh straight game Tuesday night. For Benoit Benjamin, it was two in a row.

The Clipper center, who was benched for the start of the second half in Sunday night's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, watched the second half from the bench Tuesday night as the Clippers were beaten by the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-82.

Will Benjamin be back in the starting lineup tonight when the Clippers face the Cleveland Cavaliers at Richfield, Ohio?

"I'm not sure," Shue said. "Maybe that will be the next day's story."

Benjamin is fortunate that Dick Vitale, a former college and pro basketball coach turned TV commentator, doesn't coach the Clippers.

"He has a double zero on his back, but he should add another zero. I give him a zero for his offensive attitude, a zero for his defensive attitude and a zero for his mental attitude," Vitale said after watching Benjamin score just two points in the first half as the Clippers fell behind by 15 points at halftime. Benjamin didn't have a rebound in 16 minutes.

"Check his heart, I don't think he has one," Vitale said of Benjamin. "He's an absolute flat out disgrace to everyone that's ever worn a basketball uniform. It's sad that they have to write a check out to him, and I don't see how he has the guts to cash his paycheck. You can see that the kid doesn't want to be out there."

Vitale talked with Shue and Benjamin in the Clipper locker room after the game.

Shue replaced Benjamin with Earl Cureton, and Shue used rookie center Martin Nessley when Cureton got into foul trouble.

Asked why he didn't use Benjamin in the second half, Shue said: "Obviously, things were not going well in the first half. Earl is a more up-tempo person, and I went with him and I came back with Martin Nessley."

Shue has said all along that he views Benjamin as a project this season.

"He's a suspect, not a project," Vitale said of Benjamin. "Gene felt the same way I did. It's got to be frustrating to all the players to see his (lack of) effort out there."

Benjamin, who has spent the season in Shue's doghouse, seemed to take the latest setback in stride.

The 7-foot center shrugged his massive shoulders when reporters asked how he felt.

"Everyone has their own opinion about me," Benjamin said "Everything (Shue) does is his decision. No, I'm not really upset. If he doesn't want to play me, so be it. I'm not mad."

Said guard Mike Woodson, who had a team-high 19 points: "If he ain't (mad), he should be. If I got benched I'd be mad, and I'd come to play the next time. Hopefully, he'll respond."

The Clippers seemed to play better without Benjamin than they did with him.

Trailing by 24 points in the third period, Los Angeles blitzed the Bucks, 20-2, at the start of the final quarter to get to within 6 points before Milwaukee pulled away to break a two-game losing streak.

However, the Clippers say they need Benjamin if they are to be successful.

"In order for us to beat teams we really need Ben," said guard Quintin Dailey, who led the Clipper comeback with 17 points, including 13 in the final period.

This isn't the first time Shue has benched a player for not playing well.

Shue benched Benjamin briefly in a loss to the Lakers last month, and he benched four starters, including Benjamin, at the start of the second half Sunday in the Clippers' 37-point loss in Atlanta. However, this was the first time that the veteran coach had benched a starter for an extended period of time.

"Gene has to play whoever he thinks will win," said forward Michael Cage, who had 18 points and 17 rebounds. "Obviously, Ben had a slow start, so he chose not to play him. I know (Shue) would do the same thing with me. If I'm not getting rebounds, I'd be on the bench. After he didn't start me in the second half against Atlanta, I couldn't sleep after the game."

Shue also made one other big change in the lineup, starting rookie Joe Wolf at small forward in place of Reggie Williams, who has been in a slump. Wolf had started 13 of 15 games at small forward before he underwent minor surgery on his right knee on Dec. 11.

Williams, who played guard at Georgetown, seemed more comfortable at guard. The switch to a new position didn't improve Williams' shooting, however, as he made just 2 of 14 shots from the floor in 23 minutes off the bench.

"I think my best position is either one or two (point guard or shooting guard)," Williams said. "But I was a bit uncomfortable tonight because I haven't played point guard (for the Clippers).

"I'll play better when I get to know the position better."

It was a big night for Wolf, who is from Kohler, Wis. His parents and 10 bus loads of fans came out to see him.

Wolf, who said he was nervous because of his homecoming, had just 7 points in 34 minutes.

The Bucks, who were colder than the weather (0 degrees), were hungry for a win.

Del Harris, the Bucks' coach, shook up his lineup before the game because his team was in a slump, losing four of six at home.

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