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Clippers Hope Schedule Doesn't Trip Up Playoff Chances

Pro basketball: They begin seven-game, 12-day swing tonight in Atlanta that is rare this late in the season.

March 27, 1997|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a wonder that Clipper Coach Bill Fitch, who underwent triple-bypass surgery last summer, didn't go into cardiac arrest when he got his first look at the Clipper schedule.

Most NBA teams take their longest trip of the season by February, but the Clippers were given a seven-game, 12-day trip at the end of the season.

"We're like Lewis and Clark," Fitch said. "We go east, west, north and south."

The trip, which opens tonight in Atlanta, could determine whether the Clippers earn their first playoff berth in four years.

The Clippers (31-37) are seventh in the Western Conference and have a one-game lead over the Phoenix Suns (30-39), a three-game lead over the Sacramento Kings (29-41) and a 6 1/2-game lead over the Golden State Warriors (25-44).

The Suns have 13 games left, including seven road games, but their longest trip is a three-game, four-day one against the Kings, Lakers and Warriors.

Seven of the Kings' remaining 12 games are at home, and nine of the Warriors' 13 games are at home.

"Phoenix, Sacramento and Golden State have a more favorable schedule," Fitch said. "Our schedule is the toughest.

"When the schedule maker makes it out, he figures that the race is going to be between first and second or third and fourth. If they could figure out where everybody was going to be in the standings this time of year, we'd have them doing things more important than making the NBA schedule. Now we've got to go out and play everybody that's going to be in the playoffs.

"This will be our playoffs for us whether we make it or not. Being on the road is tough this time of year, but we're a young team and the more tough things we go through, the tougher we're going to be down the road."

The Clippers have lost home games to six of the seven teams on the trip, and four opponents are almost certain to make the playoffs.

The Clippers have two sets of back-to-back games on the trip. However, none of their opponents plays the night before.

After Atlanta, they play the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, then the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

After a day off, they play the Miami Heat on Tuesday, followed by back-to-back games against the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics on April 3-4. They end the trip against the New Jersey Nets on April 6.

In the midst of their best season since 1992-93, the Clippers have been anything but boring.

Fitch doesn't need to go to his cardiologist to test his heart. All he has to do is watch his team.

The Clippers came back from a 10-point deficit to defeat the Vancouver Grizzlies in overtime, 110-104, Tuesday night at the Sports Arena.

They've come from behind in the final quarter to win nine games this season.

They'll need that kind of determination to be successful on their most important trip of the season.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Road Trip

The Clippers are going on a rigorous trip, playing seven games in 12 days:

1. Today at Atlanta

2. Friday at Detroit

3. Sunday at Indiana

4. Tuesday at Miami

5. April 3 at Orlando

6. April 4 at Boston

7. April 6 at New Jersey

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