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Clippers Almost Win One : Pro basketball: They lose lead then ninth game in a row, this one to New Jersey, 98-97.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Coach Bill Fitch is getting tired of answering questions about why the Clippers are the NBA's only winless team.

"It would be a big step if we won because then I'd get some other questions," Fitch said Sunday night.

Fitch's players were about eight seconds away from silencing the questioners, but they couldn't finish off the New Jersey Nets, who extended the Clippers' season-opening losing streak to nine games by defeating them, 98-97, before 11,670 at the Brendan Byrne Arena.

"Even though we led them for most of the game, there was no moral victory here," said guard Terry Dehere, who had 16 points. "A loss is a loss."

The Clippers had the lead for most of the game, then with 7.7 seconds remaining New Jersey forward Armon Gilliam dunked off a pass from guard Kenny Anderson to give the Nets a one-point lead.

"It would have been embarrassing to lose to the Clippers, especially the way we played," Gilliam said. "We came out and we were going through the motions."

The Clippers called a timeout to set up a play, but forward P.J. Brown blocked Pooh Richardson's layup as time expired. Richardson had the option of driving and passing to center Elmore Spencer or driving and kicking the ball out to Dehere. But Spencer, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, was covered so Richardson took the last shot.

"This is tough, but we've got to find a way to get through it," said Richardson, who had 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. "I thought we played well enough to win it tonight. We finally put four quarters of basketball together. Everything we did was the right thing. At least now we're getting the hang of it."

Fitch said Richardson ran the play the way it was designed.

"Richardson was one shot away from having the big play of the night," Fitch said. "I thought Pooh did a good job running the play. We could have used one less turnover.

"It's disappointing as hell. When you get in a situation like this, you've got all the baggage that goes with the streak. We've played a couple games now where we're at another level and we're still losing.

"That's the toughest level, when you get to that level, where you're just good enough to lose and you're not quite tough enough to win."

The Clippers, who led by as many as 15 points, played well until the fourth quarter, limiting All-Star forward Derrick Coleman to 10 points in the first three quarters. But Coleman, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as New Jersey outscored the Clippers 24-16.

After shooting 46.1% in the first three quarters, the Clippers shot 27% in the final quarter, missing 19 of 26 shots.

Richardson, who made eight of 21 shots, missed six of seven in the final quarter. Forward Loy Vaught, who made five of 20, missed all five shots he took in the final quarter. Vaught, who had 10 points and eight rebounds, made only one of 12 shots in the second half.

Although the Clippers lost a game they should have won, they might have found a way to motivate Spencer, who had averaged 6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Fitch made his first lineup change of the season, starting rookie Matt Fish at center in place of Spencer. Fish struggled, getting only two points and one rebound, but Spencer seemed more relaxed in a reserve role, making six of 11 shots.

Clipper Notes

Former Clipper forward Dominique Wilkins, who signed with the Boston Celtics last July, predicted that the Clippers will break the NBA record for most losses in a season that was established when the Philadelphia 76ers went 9-73 in 1972-73. "I think that they're going to set the record, I honestly do," Wilkins said. "They've had four or five lottery picks in the last five or six years and not one of them is here. What does that tell you? That's got to be the first time in history that it's happened." Although most NBA insiders think the Clippers have a good shot at breaking the record, Wilkins was the first to put it on the record. . . . The game was a homecoming for Clipper Coach Bill Fitch, who coached the Nets for three seasons.

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