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Clippers' Big Lead Is Too Much Pressure

Pro basketball: Trail Blazers use defense to turn an early 17-point deficit into a 97-70 victory at the Pond.

April 11, 1999|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense is often an overlooked aspect of the NBA where scoring and highlight dunks get the most attention.

But defense is the main reason why the Portland Trail Blazers have the best record in the league and they gave the Clippers a large dose of it Saturday night at the Arrowhead Pond.

As if they only wanted to tease the Clippers, the Trail Blazers slept through the first eight minutes and fell behind by 17 points before ripping the Clippers so much that it didn't seem fair by the time the game came to a merciful end.

Thanks to 31 turnovers by the Clippers, the Trail Blazers won going away, 97-70, before 12,853. It was the Clippers' lowest scoring output of the year and their turnovers were easily a season high.

If the Clippers (4-31), who missed 43 of their final 58 shots, needed any more reasons why a complete roster makeover will be needed for next season, Saturday's collapse should have done it.

"It's late in the season and we should be playing a little bit better than what we showed," point guard Sherman Douglas said. "We just didn't respond when they turned on their pressure.

"I never seen anything like this before. Not with the way we were playing."

With visions of their Thursday night victory over Minnesota still fresh in their minds, the Clippers roared out the blocks against Portland.

Maurice Taylor and Michael Olowokandi powered inside for scores, and Eric Piatkowski and Tyrone Nesby made their shots from the perimeter to help the Clippers take a 20-3 lead before the Trail Blazers had even worked up a sweat.

But Portland, which missed 11 of its first 12 shots, then got serious and showed why the Trail Blazers lead the league with a 28-7 record.

Utilizing a full-court trapping defense, the Trail Blazers dominated with Rasheed Wallace, Walt Williams and Kelvin Cato coming off the bench to combine for 46 points. The Clipper reserves had 14 points.

"We were just too passive with everything, they are the best team in the league and we knew that but still didn't go out and do it," Taylor said.

After turning the ball over three times in taking a 27-16 lead at the end of one quarter, the Clippers played like they were clueless against Portland's pressure the rest of the game. It's not as if they were not expecting it, because Coach Chris Ford drilled his team throughout Friday's practice on how to attack the Trail Blazers' press.

But knowing what to do and then doing it in a real game is a different story. With eight out of the 12 players in uniform being free agents at the end of this dismal season, the Clippers have to start evaluating now which players to bring back.

Olowokandi, who had a 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Taylor, who had 11 and five, are keepers. Nesby, who had a team-high 17 points and added seven rebounds, will be a free agent, but he has played so well, the Clippers could regret it if they let him go.

Douglas, who had only one point and two assists, had his worst game since returning off the injured list early this month, but he has added leadership with his play. He would be a good veteran to bring back.

The rest of the free agent to-be group, however, may be granted their wish of being ex-Clippers next season.

Headed by veterans Piatkowski, Lamond Murray, Rodney Rogers and Darrick Martin, the Clippers look as if they will be forced to make changes.

"Granted, in the future, through the draft and with free agency it would be nice to add a couple of guys," Ford said, "but I'm a firm believer that if we keep some of these guys together and add some pieces, we can win."

But for now, the Clippers have 15 games remaining and if any future opponent needs any added advantage, all they have to do is watch Saturday's game tape.

"We have to play better than we did tonight," Ford said. "Every team the rest of the season will press us and we have to learn how to handle it."

That's the latest of many understatements made by Ford this year.

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