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Visiting Clippers Aim to Wear Out Welcome

L.A. players, buoyed by a franchise-high 20 road wins this season, arrive in Denver with confidence.

April 27, 2006|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Don't fear the road.

That has been Coach Mike Dunleavy's message to players since he joined the Clippers, and they got it this season.

The team set a franchise mark with 20 road victories, including several among its most impressive of the season.

The Clippers are capable of winning anywhere, players say, and they'll get another chance to prove it tonight in Game 3 of a first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.

The Clippers lead, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series. No team in NBA history has won a postseason series after losing the first three games, so it seems the Nuggets are in a must-win situation.

Denver is struggling on offense, and power forward Kenyon Martin is suspended indefinitely because he refused to play in the second half of Game 2.

But the Nuggets have returned to their home court, and Pepsi Center crowds are among the loudest in the league, so here comes the Clippers' toughest road test of the season.

"You know how Denver fans are," point guard and co-captain Sam Cassell said. "You know they're going to come out strong and loud, and we've got to be ready for that.

"But this basketball team has won on the road. This basketball team isn't like those old Clipper teams ... we have that confidence on the road."

At 20-21, the Clippers had their best road record. The 1974-75 Buffalo Braves had 19 road victories.

"We had 20 victories on the road, and we haven't done that before," power forward and co-captain Elton Brand said. "We know the Nuggets are going to be confident, but we're going to be confident too."

In each of Dunleavy's first two seasons, the Clippers went 10-31 on the road.

What changed?

"The team's better," center Chris Kaman said. "Mike has slowly brought in more of the guys he wanted, that's made a difference, and he's molded the ballclub into a playoff team with a lot of potential."

Before Dunleavy arrived in July 2003, the franchise had fewer than 10 road victories in 17 of its previous 33 seasons.

Convincing the Clippers that they could win on the road was necessary to change the organization's culture of losing, Dunleavy said.

"I've got no fear about going on the road and winning games," he said. "I loved playing on the road when I was a player, and I told the guys when I got here, 'The road is not your enemy.' It's the opponent; it's not the road.

"If you're playing somebody great, that's tough, but you just have to block out a building and a crowd. I don't care where you're playing, the mind-set has to be that you're there to win."

The Clippers did that here Jan. 27.

They routed the Nuggets, 105-87, in their most complete road win to that point, and the first of five consecutive victories, including the playoffs, over Denver.

Brand scored 14 of his 33 points in the first quarter and the Clippers took command early. Cassell had 25 points, Kaman had 16 points and 13 rebounds and swingman Cuttino Mobley contributed 10 points and seven assists.

"Oh, yeah, I remember that game," Kaman said. "We made our rotations on defense, our coverages were good and we kept them out of the open court. I thought E.B. and myself played really well, and it worked out for us."

The Clippers' confidence increased with each road victory, culminating in a 119-105 blowout of the Phoenix Suns on April 6 at US Airways Center, which some players said was their best performance of the regular season.

The Clippers limited the high-powered Suns, who topped the NBA in scoring, to 42.4% shooting from the field, led by as many as 21 points in the second half and maintained at least a 12-point lead in the final quarter.

"When we're playing well on the road, we're sharing the basketball, keeping turnovers down and making sure everyone gets easy shots," Mobley said. "Our defense dictates our offense, and when we play like that, we can win anywhere."

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