Protege vs. mentor.
Clippers vs. their own bad karma.
An assistant coach taking over the team on the spur-of-the moment against his former organization.
Well, no one ever accused the Clippers of being boring in terms of story lines. The only constant thread of this season has been in the loss category and they added another on Wednesday night -- hitting No. 13 -- as the Denver Nuggets defeated the Clippers, 106-105, at Staples Center.
The stage was set for the Clippers' Marcus Camby to create his own Elton Brand moment against his old team. Baron Davis passed up the shot, finding an open Camby up top, straightaway, and Camby's three-point attempt glanced off the rim in the closing seconds.
"I thought it was going in," said Camby, traded by the Nuggets to the Clippers in the off-season.
Not even a week ago, the 76ers' Brand beat his former Clippers teammates with a 15-foot jump shot in the final minute at Philadelphia.
The Clippers had fought back in determined fashion after some desultory moments, slowly whittling away the Nuggets' lead and they tied it at 103 with 1:35 remaining on Eric Gordon's 25-foot three-pointer. The rookie Gordon, who had 24 points, has scored 49 in his last two games.
But Carmelo Anthony responded with a 15-footer with 1:15 left to put the Nuggets ahead for good.
The latest setback ruined the Clippers' debut of power forward Zach Randolph and guard Mardy Collins, who were acquired last week from the New York Knicks in a four-player deal. Randolph, who hadn't played in more than a week, had to scrape off substantial rust, going three for 11 and scoring seven points in 26 minutes.
"I didn't play good tonight," Randolph said. "I didn't play my game. . . . I was indecisive."
Said Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes: "I thought he struggled quite a bit and he also tried very hard. He's definitely going to be a work in progress for us. To be honest with you, he barely even knows the plays right now."
Randolph's highly anticipated, and long-awaited debut, was fairly ordinary, as were the Clippers, until the fourth quarter.
Camby's game also found another gear late in the contest. He had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots and came out even against his close friend and protege, the Nuggets' Nene, who had 17 points.
Leading Denver was Anthony with 30 points. Anthony did not play in the teams' first meeting, here last month, because of his suspension. Nor did Camby -- out with a bruised heel -- in the Nuggets' victory.
In that game, the Nuggets overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and won it in overtime. There was no such need for a dramatic comeback on Wednesday. Instead, they had to hold off a late Clippers' surge.
The Clippers already were short-handed with injuries to swingman Ricky Davis (knee) and Chris Kaman (strained left arch). Davis will be out for possibly two weeks, and Kaman was only able to play the first quarter against Denver.
That helped the Clippers momentarily solve their time-share problem in the front court through a not-so-ideal solution. Kaman said he would probably require a cortisone shot after the game.
The other last-minute story line had to do with Hughes, who ended up running the team because Coach/GM Mike Dunleavy was in Texas for the funeral of his father-in-law.
Hughes spent five seasons in the Nuggets' organization.