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Clippers Go From Bad to Sad

Pro basketball: Selfish play leaves Gentry disgusted and with no chance against the opportunistic Jazz, which easily prevails, 99-87.


SALT LAKE CITY — As ever, the Utah Jazz played like a team Wednesday, setting picks, passing the ball to an open teammate, helping each other out on defense. The Clippers played like a bunch of guys who just met at the park for a pick-up game.

Was it any wonder the Jazz battered the Clippers, 99-87, before a crowd of 18,591 in the Delta Center? Of course not. The Jazz has been playing this way since John Stockton's short shorts were actually considered stylish.

The burning postgame questions centered on what's happened to the happy-go-lucky team that caught the attention of fans with its eye-popping play and unending resolve when things didn't go its way. There also were pointed questions about selfish play and a lack of team unity on the court.

"I'm upset with my team," Coach Alvin Gentry said after the Clippers fell below the .500 mark (37-38) for the first time since they were 30-31 on March 6. "It's not about an individual, it's about a team. It's the most disappointed I've been all year."

Gentry did not get specific, but center Michael Olowokandi did.

"We didn't play well together," said Olowokandi, who had seven points on two-of-15 shooting. "Whenever you have a group of guys that are very uncertain of their futures on the team that will always happen. Whenever you have that situation, you will never have a basketball team. Not this year, not next year, not 10 years from now. We had a situation tonight where everyone was just going on their own. It wasn't good.

"Things are very uncertain with the future of this team. It's starting to affect the way we play the game."

Olowokandi and point guard Jeff McInnis are eligible to become free agents this summer and neither has been approached about re-signing.

Olowokandi is a restricted free agent, with the Clippers able to match any outside offers to retain his rights.

McInnis is an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any other team.

What's more, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Lamar Odom are eligible for long-term contract extensions. They also have heard nothing.

"What people have to understand is when you win, everyone's future is brighter," Brand said. "Coach said he saw some problems [Wednesday]. He knows best. It might have been there for who knows how long. We might just be burned out. We don't want to make excuses. People definitely don't know what's going on, though."

Olowokandi said he was so frustrated by his teammates' freelancing offense in the first quarter, when they trailed the Jazz 22-9, that he "didn't want to play."

He also said, "It's frustrating. Off the court, we're a close-knit group. Once it comes to getting down to business, everyone goes his own way."

For instance, Olowokandi said, "Guys on the wing, who would normally throw the ball into the post, were driving right at you. It's OK if they yell to get out of the way, but they were driving right at you."

No question the Clippers were out of sync during their worst quarter of the season.

If not for Brand, who scored all of the team's nine points, they would have been blanked in the opening 12 minutes. Brand was four for seven. The rest of the Clippers missed all of their 11 shots.

Asked if he could remember the last time he scored all of his team's points in a quarter, Brand said, "Maybe Rec League."

Utah didn't exactly look like champions, but by halftime the Jazz led, 41-30, and was beginning to click one night after losing to the Nuggets at Denver.

The Jazz rolled to a 28-point lead in the third quarter, picking apart the Clippers for the 14th consecutive game with their efficient passing and screening offense. Karl Malone led the Jazz with 24 points. Stockton added 11 points and nine assists.

Perhaps the only fight the Clippers showed happened on the final basket of the game, with Darius Miles throwing down a thunderous dunk over Andrei Kirilenko that brought the Clippers to within 12 points in the closing seconds.

Brand led the Clippers with 24 points and 11 rebounds, his 53rd double-double. He needs two more to pass Swen Nater's franchise record of 54 double-doubles, set in 1980-81.

"It's disheartening," Brand said of the Clippers' poor effort. "It's a shame we didn't fight harder."

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