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COMMENTARY : It Could Be Their Kind of Town


Who were those guys?

With the young Clippers, ecstasy and agony follow each other as surely as day follows night, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the lost boys of Game 3 were found on the off-day and returned in Game 4 to beat the Rockets.

So it's back to Houston for Game 5 for this brave little band, perched at once on the brink of glory or trouble. It isn't every franchise that has as much young talent. It isn't every franchise that has their problem, or a color commentator--Bill Walton--so outspoken that the general manager--Elgin Baylor--has to go on the air to respond to his comments.

Has any franchise ever needed a happy ending as this one does?

When the Lakers won at Phoenix, their fans climbed over each other to get back into the Forum.

When the Clippers won at Houston, an appreciative crowd showed up in the Sports Arena Monday but it numbered only 12,628. Another 14,710 were announced for their finest hour Wednesday, but large sections of the upper deck remained bare.

Sometimes it seems the Lakers are a cloud the Clippers can never get out from under, but those days are ending, for the moment or the rest of the century. This spring's miracle on Manchester Avenue notwithstanding, the Lakers are going away and I don't mean to Phoenix.

Los Angeles is wide open for the Clippers to take, if they can.

It is not that Angelenos prefer to pay higher prices or sit in gold-colored seats, but they do insist on a winner. Any old winner will do.

The Lakers, however impoverished, represent a wellspring of wonderful memories.

The Clippers, however resurgent, represent promise not yet realized.

Over the years, Clipper players have complained about playing their second fiddles.

But the Lakers aren't the Clippers' problem.

The Clippers are the Clippers' problem.

"Speaking for myself, I don't get into that Clipper-Laker thing," Ken Norman said. "The Lakers have a lot to be proud of. They have reason to, because they've achieved great success.

"I think some guys get into that but I really don't. . . . I think we should try to emulate their success. I'm not a jealous-type person. I'm happy for their success. That's the level we're trying to get to. So God bless them. We've got to work on ourselves."

They're a work in progress, but when they're right, as they were Wednesday night, they show possibilities.

When they're forced, or inclined, to settle for perimeter shots, as they did Monday, they're clay pigeons.

"Everyone that plays us know we're not the greatest jump-shooting team in the world," Norman said. "Yeah, they (Rockets) are making things tough on the interior people. They're running a lot of people at everyone who posts up."

The fan support is there, qualitatively if not quantitatively. When Norman missed three consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, including one he airballed, the crowd began cheering him louder.

Voila! He made the next one.

A victory in Houston sends the Clippers into the second round, where the real excitement this franchise is starved for lives.

A loss sends them into summer, to deal with all their free agents-to-be.

One way or the other, something important waits for them. This year, the road to L.A. goes through Houston.

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