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Benjamin Loses His Starting Job as Clippers Drop 8th Straight

January 07, 1988|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

RICHFIELD, Ohio — Center Benoit Benjamin lost his job as the Clippers lost their eighth straight game, 116-100, Wednesday night to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Benjamin, who was benched in the second half of the Clippers' 98-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night, was replaced in the starting lineup by Earl Cureton.

Cureton, who has spent his career as a reserve, was ineffective in his fifth start this season. His first shot was an airball, and he wound up with 4 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes.

Benjamin, who had played poorly as a starter, didn't handle his new role as a reserve much better. He had 6 points and 4 rebounds in two stints totaling 15 minutes. Benjamin, who ranks second in blocked shots in the National Basketball Assn., didn't have a blocked shot.

If Coach Gene Shue thought he could motivate Benjamin by not starting him, he may have to try another tact.

Benjamin, who wasn't upset after Shue benched him in Milwaukee, wasn't angry after Shue told him that he wasn't starting against the Cavaliers.

"Whatever he (Shue) decides is fine with me," Benjamin said. "I know I haven't been producing, and when you don't produce, you get benched. I know the team needs me to win, and I've got to be out there for us to win."

Shue, however, said that he will stick with Cureton and continue to bring Benjamin off the bench.

"I'm going to go with this lineup (Cureton at center)," Shue said. "I thought he did a good job in the first half."

Team executives have been committed to keeping Benjamin. They turned down several feelers for Benjamin from other clubs last summer.

When asked if he would be happier elsewhere, Benjamin asked a reporter, "What are you trying to start?"

While the Clippers have lost confidence in Benjamin, the Cavaliers have a reliable center in Brad Daugherty.

Daugherty, 7 feet 1 inch and 245 pounds, scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Cavaliers got their third straight victory to even their record at 15-15. It's the first time that Cleveland has been over .500 this late in the season since 1977-78.

Daugherty, who said he was surprised that the Clippers didn't use Benjamin more against him, took control of the middle as the Cavaliers took control of the game with a 12-2 spurt at the end of the first half.

Daugherty made 11 of 14 shots, most from close range, and 7 of 11 free throws.

Daugherty, who had 25 points in his previous game, has been playing well lately.

"Brad is showing much more agility on his feet," Coach Lenny Wilkens said. "He was playing a little flat-footed earlier this season and lost a little confidence. But we stayed with him."

Joe Wolf, the Clippers' rookie forward who played with Daugherty at North Carolina, said Daugherty has improved a lot since college.

"He's a better post-up player than he used to be," Wolf said. "He really worked hard to get to where he's gotten. I have a lot of respect for his work ethic. And he's also about two inches bigger than he was in college."

While Daugherty hurt the Clippers inside, Ron Harper bothered them both outside and inside.

Harper is coming back strong after sitting out 24 games with an ankle injury earlier this season.

Harper, who has been moved from guard to small forward, scored 16 points in 28 minutes and had 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocked shots.

"I'd say Ron is 85-90% back," Wilkens said. "Each game he gets a little better, and he's showing great patience. We don't want him to try to overdo it, but each game he can do a little more. I thought he really let himself go in the third quarter."

While the Cavaliers are on the road to becoming a good team, the Clippers (8-20) seem to be regressing after a promising start.

They're on the road to nowhere, losing the first 4 games of their 7-game, 13-day trip against Eastern Conference teams. Their next stop is Philadelphia, where the Clippers have dropped 17 straight.

The Clippers, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games, have been blown out in their last 5, losing by 19, 19, 37, 18 and 16 points.

"I feel the frustration of last year," said forward Michael Cage, who scored a season-high 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. "It's tiring mentally, losing. It wears you down and it just beats on you. We keep coming up short. We show flashes, but we can't put anything together."

Clipper Notes

Coach Lenny Wilkens of the Cavaliers needs one more win to reach the 600-victory mark. Wilkens is seventh on the list of the NBA's winningest coaches with a career record of 599-557. This is his second season in Cleveland after stints in Seattle and Portland. . . . The Clippers have lost nine straight games on the road against the Cavaliers. Cleveland is 5-0 at home against Pacific Division teams, including a victory over the Lakers last month.

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