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Clippers :: Too Early to Tell?

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Staples Center
By K.J.Sala
Special Staff Writer


“We'll get there”. Those words were uttered on Sunday by Clipper head coach, Alvin Gentry after the Clippers allowed a 15-point lead with 1:12 remaining in the third quarter to be turned into an 84-78 loss.

The 3-7 Clippers are now tied with the Shaq-less Lakers for sixth in the Pacific Division. Elton Brand posted his ninth consecutive double-double with 19 points and 16 rebounds. But point guard Andre Miller, who is averaging 17 points per game was held to just 12 points on 4 of 19 shooting in the Clippers third straight loss following consecutive victories in Orlando and Miami.
“For some reason, we’re not playing with a lot of confidence down the stretch,” said Gentry. “We’re feeling the pressure of expectations. We need to just relax and play.” Pressure, Expectations and Clippers. Three words that have rarely been used in the same sentence. However, after boosting their win total from 15 (1999-2000) to 31 (2000-2001) and then to 39 (2001-2002), reaping the benefits of two spectacular drafts which brought the likes of Darius Miles, Corey Maggette, Quentin Richardson and Brand, not to mention the off-season trade that resulted in Miller’s return home, the Clippers are now expected to win and then some.
Last season, the Clippers were the NBA’s youngest team and this year, with nine of the 15 players returning from last year’s team, they are now the NBA’s seventh youngest team. As Gentry so eloquently phrased it, “We‚re not cute anymore.” Youth can no longer be accepted as an excuse in a league where a college degree is now not the rule but the exception.
The off-season trade that sent Miles to Cleveland for Miller, who led the league in assists and was the only player in the NBA to average a points-assist double-double last season was designed to bring floor leadership that the team was evidently lacking. “Andre is more of a leader than anyone gives him credit for,” touts Gentry. With Andre, what you see is what you get. He’s more verbal on the court than off it and that’s what we want from him.” Gentry, who was very critical of the rule changes that now allow the zone defense in the league, has found himself exploiting the athleticism of his young players and allowing the zone to work for them.
“The zone has been very good for us, he explains. I still don’t like it, but I’m not stupid enough not to use it. Our guys are very athletic and can cover a lot of ground. We make teams beat us over the top. Without the zone, I don’t know if we would have won the three games we've won.”
The Clippers are still without Lamar Odom and Quentin Richardson. Odom was placed on the injured list on October 28th with an ankle injury, and is expected to be out at least another month. Richardson, who hyperextended his right knee against New Jersey on November 8th may return on Wednesday to face Sacramento.
Only one eighth of the way into an 82-game season, ten games may be too early to gauge the team’s success (or lack thereof). Richardson’s and Odom’s return, the continued leadership of Miller and Brand and the steady improvement of center, Michael Olowokandi may just allow the Clippers to respond to the pressure, live up to expectations and get there.

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