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Clippers Embark on 'New Season' : NBA playoffs: They lost all four regular-season games against Rockets, but slate is clean for tonight's first-round game.


HOUSTON — History:

Houston beat the Clippers the four times they played this season, twice holding them to a season-low 83 points. The Rockets outscored them, 103.5-92.5, outshot them, 49.2%-46.5%, and made three more three-pointers than the Clippers attempted. And there is no falling back on either team being on a roll or in a slump, not with the games in late November, mid-January, early March and early April.


"I think it's just going to be a situation where they know they can kick our . . .," Clipper Coach Larry Brown said. "They've done it four times, and they're going to try a make a statement in the playoffs, which they haven't done. I think they've got a lot of things on their side."


"You can look at it two ways," Clipper Ken Norman said. "You can just forget about it, put it behind you and go on, or you can use it as a motivational tool in terms of us owing them something. Either way, we've just got to go out and play hard.

"They just had four great games against us. They're a team we can beat. I can't explain how we can beat New York twice and Phoenix three times and lose to those guys four times, but we definitely feel like we can win the series."

The Clippers get their chance starting tonight, when the best-of-five first-round playoff series against the Midwest Division champions begins at the Summit (5:30 PDT, Channel 13). Game 2 is at Houston on Saturday night, before the switch to the Sports Arena for Game 3 on Monday night and, if necessary, Game 4 on Wednesday night.

"I know we can beat them," Brown said. "We can beat any team if we play the right way. But we can lose to any team if we play like we have at times. No need harping on what's happened before. I learned long ago, this is a new season and all you have to do is try to play your best and take your chances. I'm sure it helps Houston knowing they've beat us four straight, but I don't think it hurts us one bit."

So what adjustments would he like to see from the regular season?

"I'd like to score more points than they do," Brown said.

Actually there are others.

"I think every time I've spoken to you guys (the media) since Day 1, I've talked about the same things we need to do. One of the main reasons I've said that is (because) that's what it takes to win in the playoffs. You've got to defend in the half court, you've got to rebound, you've got to run back defensively and you've got to play hard and play unselfishly. I don't think we did that all four times we played Houston, and it's obvious if we don't do that we'll have the same kind of situation that happened before.

"But if we do the things we talked about, which we have done against some of the better teams in this league, we've got a chance. But if we play soft, if we don't rebound, if we don't run back, if we don't defend against a team like Houston, they'll just destroy you."

For all the reasons the Rockets have to feel very confident--Hakeem Olajuwon averaging 26.3 points and 12.5 rebounds against the Clippers, a very mobile front line that could expose the Clipper weakness of not getting back quick enough on defense--they, too, have problems.

Robert Horry is expected to start but continues to have problems with knee tendinitis, the type of injury that nags a player even after returning. The rookie small forward played sparingly for two games, missed the final three outings of the regular season, then failed to make it through practice Tuesday.

Shooting guard Vernon Maxwell will be sidelined at least two games and probably more because his broken wrist is not even scheduled to be re-evaluated until after Game 4, probably moving former Clipper Winston Garland into the starting lineup. Garland has produced on offense but is a defensive liability at 6 feet 2.

The absence of two starters has had an effect on the Rockets' defense, which this season held six teams to season lows in offense. They were giving up only 99 points per game heading into the final three games, then gave up 110 in overtime to a Minnesota team that averaged an NBA-low 98.1, 128 to Dallas and 119 in an overtime game with San Antonio. Garland was matched against 6-6 Doug West, 6-6 Jim Jackson and 6-8 Willie Anderson, and now comes 6-6 Ron Harper.

The counter, of course, is that the Clippers must contain Olajuwon, coming off his best season. The responsibility will fall to Stanley Roberts, who, like his season as a whole, was sometimes impressive and sometimes nonexistent against the Rockets: five fouls in nine minutes in November, four fouls in 23 minutes in January, and 21 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in March.

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