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Clippers let one get away

Davis' shot just before the final buzzer doesn't go in and L.A. blows a 13-point lead in the third quarter. Butler scores 33 points.

January 17, 2010|By Lisa Dillman

LeBron James, having a bit of extra time on his hands just before tipoff, kept drifting down the court and ended up in front of the Clippers' bench Saturday night.

The mystery regarding his destination became clear. James was there to talk to a guy in a sharp suit and tie, one Blake Griffin, power forward turned medical patient needing knee surgery. James gave him a man-hug and they shared a nice bonding moment.

So, what did James say to Griffin? Better yet, what did Griffin have to say to James.

Hollywood . . . Malibu . . . salary-cap space.

Doubtful, though Griffin does have a dry sense of humor. Griffin did say later that James offered "just some words of encouragement."

James said he understands what it is like to be the franchise, which is why he went over to Griffin.

"I told him that he has to stay positive," James said. "One injury is not going to define who you are. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there in a uniform instead of a suit."

Let's face it. This was one part basketball game, one part recruiting trip, a rare chance for the Clippers to impress James before the Summer of LeBron.

Consider it three-fourths done. The Cavaliers rallied to beat the Clippers, 102-101, at Staples Center as Baron Davis' shot before the buzzer went for naught.

"I was just trying to create some space," Davis said. "I didn't get free like I wanted to. It was crowded there on that right side."

Said Coach Mike Dunleavy: "I'm proud of our effort. Still disappointed that we lost. I felt like our guys played a hell of a game. But we didn't come up with the 50-50 balls. They got too many offensive rebounds, too many balls that were hitting the rim and bouncing."

He was correct about the disparity in offensive rebounds. The Cavaliers had 14, the Clippers four. Even more one-sided was second-chance points: Cleveland 21, Clippers six.

The Clippers were aiming to bounce back from a 40-point loss to the Lakers on Friday. But the game within the game turned out to be James versus Rasual Butler.

James, who had only eight points in the first half, finished with 32. Butler had a season-high 33 points, making four three-point baskets and showing his own dramatic flair, turning away before one of his three-point baskets late in the game.

Eric Gordon seemed to rediscover his shooting stroke, going 11 for 16 from the field for 28 points, making four three pointers.

The Clippers showed uncommon resilience, at least until crunch time, operating without center Chris Kaman (back) and small forward Al Thornton (sprained ankle).

Davis, too, was dealing with an aching lower back and forward Craig Smith (bruised lower back/sprained left wrist) sat out the third quarter after an effective first half, but returned for the fourth quarter.

There were uncanny similarities to last season's Clippers-Cavaliers game at Staples. James had to use his words, at halftime, and then actions to jump-start his sleepwalking teammates. The Clippers blew a 19-point fourth-quarter lead in that game.

It didn't happen this time. Of course, the Clippers never had a 19-point lead. This time, they had a 13-point lead in the third quarter and watched it dwindle to five at the start of the fourth quarter.

Beforehand, Dunleavy was talking about James and was looking for the right way to describe his physical presence.

Dunleavy first used the word locomotive and then revised it, saying: "Clearly, actually freight train may have been better than locomotive. He's a powerful guy."

Then Dunleavy, without mentioning James, went into a sales pitch, sounding a lot like the NCAA coach he never was. Granted, he was led into the conversation when asked about Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

"Our guy is maybe the most solvent of all of them," he said. "Fully owns his team. Fully paid up. . . . That's a big drawing card. Great city, great building, great practice facility. Actually, word is around the league we make money."

Dunleavy then was asked if the message, now in reporters' digital records, should be played for James.

He smiled, saying: "Hey, do with it what you may."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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