The Clippers are a long way from the playoffs, a long way from challenging the NBA's elite teams in the standings and a very long way from the buzz they generated during the 2001-02 season, when they were briefly the coolest kids in the league.
It doesn't mean they can't play with the sort of passion and efficiency that makes late-season games miserable for more accomplished foes hoping for a walkover.
The Clippers proved they could hang with a league power right to the end Wednesday, driving the Indiana Pacers batty with their energetic game during a 101-94 overtime loss in front of 17,677 in Staples Center.
Once in overtime, the Clippers couldn't match the Pacers' execution. Reggie Miller's three-point basket from 27 feet to beat the 24-second clock that gave Indiana a 95-92 lead inside the final two minutes was like a dagger to the Clippers' hearts.
Elton Brand had 24 points, Quentin Richardson 23 and Corey Maggette 21 for the Clippers. Ron Artest had 25 points and Jermaine O'Neal had 19 for the Pacers.
"We had them beat," Brand said. "These are tough games, even into overtime. It hurts to lose like that."
Staples Center sizzled in the final minutes, in response to the Clippers' dogged play and to Artest's takedown of Richardson with the score tied, 80-80, with 3 minutes 43 seconds remaining in regulation. The officials ruled a jump ball.
In the end, the fans' anger over the call gave the Clippers a jolt of energy down the stretch. Brand slipped a short pass to a cutting Marko Jaric, whose layup gave the Clippers an 87-85 lead with 25.8 seconds left.
With the fans standing and bellowing, "defense, defense," Artest countered with a fadeaway jumper in the paint to tie the score, 87-87, with 10.9 seconds remaining.
At the other end, Eddie House's off-balance jump shot from the left of the top of the key missed the mark and the teams went to overtime.
"The effort is going to be there," Brand said. "But we've got to convert that effort into wins."
Playing the Sacramento Kings, the Western Conference leaders, and the Pacers, tops in the East, on consecutive nights is no one's idea of a good time.
But the NBA schedule-makers had the Clippers at Sacramento on Tuesday and playing home to the Pacers on Wednesday, so the Clippers dug in their heels, set their jaws and took the best shots their opponents had to offer.
One night after what Coach Mike Dunleavy said was "probably' their best game of the season, a 113-106 loss against the Kings, the Clippers started with a whimper rather than a bang against the Pacers. They missed their first six shots and trailed, 11-1, before Richardson made a layup 7 1/2 minutes into the game.
Matters would improve for the Clippers by halftime. That they would lead, 52-51, by the break was largely due to the play of Richardson and Brand, who took turns making medium-range jump shots.
By halftime, Richardson had 17 points on eight-for-12 shooting and Brand had 16 points on six-for-nine shooting.
What saved the Pacers, aside from the Clippers' poor start, was eight-for-13 shooting from beyond the three-point arc.
In fact, the Pacers might have trailed by a good deal more than a point by halftime if not for three-point baskets from Miller and Jamaal Tinsley, who had two, in the closing minutes of the half.
Indiana's only other point in the last 5 1/2 minutes was a free throw from O'Neal.
Like the Clippers, the Pacers played Tuesday in Northern California, defeating the Golden State Warriors, before heading south.
When the Clipper offense went stagnant to start the second half, the Pacers failed to distance themselves. In fact, the Clippers went more than six minutes without a point before Richardson scored on a twisting drive to cut their deficit to 55-54.
"We've been playing hard against tough teams," Dunleavy said. "I've been pleased with our defense. We just haven't been finishing the game out."