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CLIPPERS FYI

Can Clippers avoid sinking to the occasion?

The team has played well against elite teams such as the Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics, but sometimes struggles against lesser opponents. On Monday the worst of them all, the New Jersey Nets, visit St

January 18, 2010|By Lisa Dillman

Wins over Boston and Denver, and close calls against Cleveland at Staples Center the last two seasons, plus one big breakthrough victory against the Lakers on Jan. 6.

Good teams? The Clippers don't seem to have much trouble rising to the occasion when the lights on the marquee are a bit brighter and the very best arrive in town.

(Well, there was that 40-point loss to the Lakers on Friday.)

Still, often rising to the occasion against the better teams has its flip side.

Cue up some ominous music for today's opponent.

Bring on the New Jersey Nets, armed with the baggage of 36 losses.

The Clippers, coming off a one-point loss to Cleveland on Saturday, watched film and had a brief walk-through Sunday, a good move considering their banged-up physical state.

And then there were some words of caution from Coach Mike Dunleavy:

"I said to our guys, 'Hey, most times, I feel more confident playing against the really good teams because you guys stay focused longer. And when you stay focused longer, we're better.' "

That was a way of getting around to the three-win Nets.

"Well, that's what I was presenting. That's the point I was making," Dunleavy said. "You can't look at records. If you go over individual personnel, you say, 'That guy is good. I like that guy. He's talented.'

"You've got to make sure you have that focus."

The effort and focus were better against Cleveland but there were periods of inattention and, at times, failure to pursue 50-50 balls.

"That's the area," Dunleavy said. "On the film, guys are standing there taking pictures when their guys are trying to be in the hunt."

Dunleavy having said that, the defense, overall, has improved.

"Night in, night out, if your defense is there, then you'll give yourself a chance to win," he said. "If somebody said about last night's game, 'We'll give you the ball back with one possession at the end of the game, to have a chance against Cleveland,' we would have signed up for that program."

Body check

Last Sunday, the Clippers beat Miami and, a day later, center Chris Kaman was named Western Conference player of the week.

Kaman hasn't played since and it's no coincidence the Clippers haven't won a game in that stretch, dropping four straight. He remains questionable because of a sore lower back.

Small forward Al Thornton, who has a sprained left ankle, did not play against Cleveland and will be considered a game-time decision against New Jersey. The same goes for forward Craig Smith, who got hurt against the Cavaliers but was able to return for the fourth quarter. He suffered a sprained left wrist and bruised lower back.

Not in the official injury report is point guard Baron Davis. Davis said Sunday his lower back had tightened up, necessitating extra treatment, and he hasn't felt "like himself" the last few games.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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