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They try to patch it up, but even that goes awry

January 24, 2008|Kurt Streeter

We've been here before. We've heard this before.

So many times it hurts. So many times you've got a feeling for how this is going to play out and you don't want to look.

But then again, you just can't help it, can you?

For the Clippers, another season of possibility is slipping slowly, steadily away. Their 111-85 win over the Sacramento Kings brought a glimmer of hope, but it brought their record to 13-25. Barring a miracle, off they go, into oblivion.

The faces are different this year, but the Clippers' script remains the same. First come the expectations. Then a strong tide of losses. Now comes the bickering, the confusion -- and suddenly the coach is on the chopping block.

This week, Clippers owner Donald Sterling stirred the pot when he told my colleague T.J. Simers that he expected more from his team this year. Sterling said Coach Mike Dunleavy should be held accountable. The implication? Wins are needed, now, in bunches.

Of course, a catfight began. Dunleavy came out the way you'd expect a son of Brooklyn would. If he were fired, he claimed, it would be a colossal mistake.

On Wednesday night, the Clippers labored to patch things up. They couldn't even get that all the way right.

Before the game, players vowed that they weren't going to let the tension among those in management throw them off.

Brevin Knight said his team, undermanned and injured as it is, wouldn't stop trying to get things right, and he planned to "just go out and play basketball . . . to the best of my ability."

Elton Brand, sidelined all season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon, is still the leader of this team.

"Don't worry," he said. "Everything is going to be fine. The guys know what's been said, but they are definitely going to bring it tonight."

Dunleavy sat in his small office and talked about how he'd called Sterling during the day. He said all was patched up. Of course, this being the Clippers, even stabs at reconciliation end up getting botched. A few hours later, at halftime, Sterling reportedly said that he and Dunleavy had never discussed the matter.

Who to believe? Who knows? This is the Clippers. They have a plot to follow, but way too often it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

At least the words spoken in the locker room were backed up by action.

The Clippers brought a level of moxie and energy to this game seen far too infrequently this season.

Sacramento isn't exactly one of the NBA's best teams, but they have talent and have had some nice wins of late.

The Clippers led at halftime by a point. With just under seven minutes left in the game, they had stretched that lead to 20. They hit their jump shots, moved the ball, played tight defense. Good effort. Maybe the bickering helped.

If only there were more games like this. Ever since they drove up the freeway from San Diego and planted themselves in Los Angeles they've been all too predictable, all too frustrating. The Clippers grind away in mediocrity and failure for several years. They follow that up with a slight rise in fortune, every so often even a playoff appearance and a stoking of hopes and dreams. But just before they can ever become really good, the team falls flat on its behind. It's injuries, bad draft picks, ugly free agents, maybe bad karma.

Now the team finds itself at a crossroads again. Might Dunleavy get a pink slip?

Before Dunleavy's hiring in 2003, they'd had only one winning season since moving here in 1984. That came in 1991-92, a year they went 45-37. Since then, they've made the playoffs only three times.

Dunleavy, a street fighter of a coach who prides himself on his toughness, hasn't been much better. He's had three full seasons -- one of them ending in the playoffs, the others ending in nothing but pain.

This year, saddled with injuries to Brand and Shaun Livingston and other top contributors, the team has looked as ugly as ever. But really, can he be blamed? Give John Wooden this team -- a squad without its star -- and the record isn't going to be that much better.

Before the game Wednesday, before the players stood in their locker rooms and the coach delivered his sermon about how all was well, Dunleavy addressed a group of season-ticket holders in an informal question-and-answer session.

Behind him, on the court, Brand and Livingston went through light conditioning sessions, shooting jump shots, layups and sprinting casually.

Dunleavy gestured to both players and vowed that when both return, the Clippers would suddenly catch fire.

Someone asked why they should believe enough in the future to get more season tickets.

"We have the nucleus to be a great team," Dunleavy told the group, adding giving up their tickets would mean "making a big mistake . . . you are going to regret it. I promise you."

The script, of course, says otherwise.

The script says that the Clippers will keep struggling this season and that Dunleavy will soon be gone, tossed in the trash heap.


Kurt Streeter can be reached at kurt.streeter For previous columns by Streeter, go to

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