Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Clippers prove they're for real

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION For a team that hasn't even finished with a .500 record since 1993, the Clippers made a statement by beating the Lakers

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , LOS ANGELES AND MIAMI, FLORIDA

Smush Parker, left, of the Lakers, works against the defense of Daniel Ewing during the second quarter in Los Angeles on Friday.

PHOTO: AP

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and this basketball tale of one city might never be the same.

The championship banners and retired numbers at Staples Center tell a decidedly purple-and-gold story, but the Clippers will wake up this morning as Los Angeles' best NBA team, no questions asked.

They turned aside two decades of history, as well as the Lakers, in a convincing 97-91 victory on Friday night. The Clippers improved to 7-2, the best start in franchise history, and one that only increased the volume of their playoff talk.

"The wins keep piling up," forward Elton Brand said. "It's not about a rivalry. To us, if you ask us, we think we are the better team. We have a better record, we're in the same division, and it feels good to get out of here with this one."

The Clippers made a statement Friday to a city that rarely has taken them seriously. That it was a Lakers' home game made things all the more special.

The Lakers, meanwhile, could only lick their wounds at the end of a difficult week. They barely cracked 70 points in Monday's loss at Memphis, then trailed for much of the night against a crosstown rival they rarely acknowledged in the past.

"I found some positive things about this game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I found some positive things about the Memphis game. My mother always accused me of smelling roses while I was sitting on a manure pile, but that's what you do as a coach."

These are changed times indeed for the Clippers, who share the Western Conference's best record with the San Antonio Spurs. These also are changed times for the Lakers, only two seasons removed from playing in the NBA Finals.

The Lakers (4-5) had won 17 of 20 games against the Clippers during Jackson's previous tenure as coach. They had to settle for merely winning the fourth quarter on Friday.

Brand totaled 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as all five Clippers starters finished in double figures. The Lakers got a game-high 36 points from Kobe Bryant, but the superstar guard missed 23 of the 35 shots he took.

"We are just not executing and I think we are relying on me way too much and I am taking way too many shots to try to keep us competitive," Bryant said. "We just have to focus on our execution and get back to basics."

Even with an injured finger on his shooting hand, Bryant has taken 71 shots the past two games. The Lakers also lost forward Kwame Brown to a hamstring injury in the second half. Brown is not expected to play Sunday.

The Lakers trailed for all of the second half, by as many as 13 points, but made a game of it late.

In short succession, forward Brian Cook knocked down a jumper, Lamar Odom stole the subsequent inbounds pass and went in for a basket, and Odom pushed in another shot as the Lakers cut the Clippers' lead to 87-82 with 2:57 left.

But Corey Maggette (21 points) beat Odom for a basket at the other end to put the Clippers back up by seven points and Bryant couldn't connect as he kept firing, trying to keep the Lakers in the game.

Bryant went 1-for-9 in the fourth quarter. Odom finished with 18 points but uncharacteristically missed five of seven free throws. The Lakers also shot just 2 of 14 from 3-point range.

"We didn't lose to a bad team," said Odom, who played four seasons with the Clippers.

The Lakers closed out the first half in terrible fashion, giving up an 8-0 run in the last 2 1/2 minutes to go into halftime trailing 53-45. Brown had one of the lowlights, needlessly fouling Sam Cassell in the backcourt with 6.9 seconds left. Cassell sank both free throws.

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