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Pro Basketball

Low Road for Clippers

Pro basketball: Troubles continue away from Staples Center for L.A. as Trail Blazers lead by 38 before winning, 113-93.

January 20, 2002|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Ore. — No confidence, no rhythm, no spark, no hope. The Clippers looked like a defeated team from the moment they stepped onto the Rose Garden court Saturday.

So what else is new?

A 113-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers before a sellout crowd of 19,980 was a little more lopsided than most away from Staples Center for the Clippers, but it had the look and feel of so many of their road games.

The Clippers reached the season's midway point with a credible 20-21 record, but they are only 3-14 on the road. No other component of their season has confounded and frustrated the team as its inability to play with the same passion and energy it has displayed at home.

"It's the biggest thing that bugs me," Coach Alvin Gentry said after the Clippers fell behind by 38 points in the third quarter en route to their sixth loss in eight games. "We've got to keep plugging away. Nobody said it was going to be easy. We're a work in progress. If we continue to work, at some point that confidence will kick in on the road."

There is a great deal to like about the Clippers after 41 games.

After all, it's the first time they have had 20 or more victories at this point since 1992-93, when they were 22-19 and finished with a 41-41 record and qualified for the playoffs. Last season, they were 13-28 and ended up 31-51.

It's the 24 road games in the final 41 that concerns the Clippers.

"I keep hoping we'll play as well on the road as we do at home this season," Eric Piatkowski said. "Hopefully, we don't have to wait until next season."

Piatkowski has been a Clipper for all of his eight seasons in the NBA, so he is uniquely qualified to comment on the state of the team at the midway point.

"Our young guys don't play with the same energy," he said. "I don't know if it's a confidence thing or what. At home Darius [Miles, a 20-year-old forward] is blocking shots and making dunks and Quentin [Richardson, a guard in his second season] is hitting every shot. They are just wonderful players at home.

"I don't know if playing on the road is that different from playing at home. We depend so much on the young guys for energy. We need them to bring that same energy on the road."

During their victory Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of the Clippers made key shots at critical moments. They surged when they sensed the Cavaliers had weakened in the third quarter and improved to 17-7 at Staples Center.

Saturday was a far different story for the Clippers, who played without Lamar Odom (sprained right wrist).

The Trail Blazers made 12 of their first 20 shots (60%) and the Clippers missed 16 of their first 23 (30.4%), and it didn't take an advanced degree to figure out which team had the lead after one quarter.

Portland's nine-point advantage swelled to 18 moments before halftime, after Dale Davis made two free throws for a 56-38 Trail Blazer lead with 55.7 seconds left.

The Clippers didn't lack for quality shots in the first half. It was simply that they didn't make enough of those shots, trailing 58-42 at halftime. The Trail Blazers then put to rest any hope the Clippers had of staging a comeback, building an 87-49 lead midway through the third quarter.

Portland made seven of 10 three-point attempts in the third. Only an 11-0 Clipper run in the final minutes of the quarter kept the game from turning into a farce. As it was, the Clippers trailed, 92-67, after three quarters.

Damon Stoudamire led the Trail Blazers with a season-high 29 points on 12-for-22 shooting. Miles led the Clippers with a season-best 20 points in 29 minutes. Richardson had 19 points in 36 minutes.

Gentry, having seen enough, benched his starters midway through the third quarter.

"We don't want to make excuses," Elton Brand said. "We didn't come to play. We've got to learn to play on the road. It's tough playing on consecutive nights. We didn't get to Portland until 3 a.m., but if we're going to stay in the playoff hunt, we have to win on the road."

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