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SuperSonics Lower Boom on Clippers

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Times Staff Writer

No matter the circumstances, the Clippers feel there is no way they should be blown out when the opponent is the Seattle SuperSonics, a team that resembles the Clippers both in record and quality of personnel.

Yet, the Clippers’ most lopsided loss of the season came here Tuesday night when the SuperSonics, only a notch above the Clippers in the Pacific Division standings, rolled to an embarrassingly easy 131-99 victory before a crowd of 7,181 at the Seattle Center Coliseum.

Not even the Lakers, who have already registered two lopsided wins over the Clippers this season, have humiliated the Clippers this thoroughly. To outsiders, though, the Clippers’ ninth loss in the last 10 games was as expected as it was deserved. Even Coach Don Chaney, who rarely makes excuses for his team’s poor play, said he had a sickening feeling that something like this was going to happen. However, the 32-point difference surprised him.

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“I knew it was going to be rough, that it was going to be an adjustment with different players around, but it shouldn’t be a 32-point adjustment,” Chaney said. “There’s no way we should lose like this to a team that’s similar to us.”

No one knows where their minds were Tuesday night, but they certainly weren’t tuned into this game. The SuperSonics, winners of their last three games, opened a 21-point lead with a 14-0 run in the second quarter, and the Clippers were hardly heard from again.

The only signs of life among the Clippers came near the end of the third quarter when they cut Seattle’s lead to 13 points (81-68), but the SuperSonics (7-9) put the Clippers (6-9) to rest with a 37-point fourth quarter.

Gaining Norm Nixon, the point guard, and losing James Donaldson, the starting center who was traded to Dallas for Kurt Nimphius, in a frenzied three-day span, no doubt left the Clippers wondering who was going to pop in or take off next.

“I understand that when you make a change, you go through a period of adjustment,” Chaney said. “I noticed it, the players noticed it and it affected us. We played as if we were strangers and, in essence, we were.”

With Donaldson, the club’s starting center the last three seasons, shipped to Dallas and Nixon back for only his second game, the adjustments were numerous.

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Rookie Benoit Benjamin, who turned 21 just last week, made his first NBA start at center Tuesday and was ineffective in his good moments and helpless the rest of the time. Benjamin had 3 points, 3 rebounds and 5 fouls in 30 minutes.

While one game doesn’t make a trade look bad, it doesn’t stop a coach from worrying.

“I didn’t see much out there,” said Chaney of Benjamin. “But I guess that’s to be expected. He has to learn how to adjust. And the other guys have to learn how to adjust to him.”

Several Clipper players privately have expressed their displeasure with the Donaldson trade. They apparently aren’t sold on Benjamin yet.

“The big guy is the rock of the team,” said Marques Johnson, who led the Clippers with 30 points. “There’s a lot of pressure on Ben. I think he’s got a lot of talent, but it’s going to take a lot of time.”

Nixon’s return has been a disruptive influence in both games in which he has played. Saturday night, his presence influenced the Clippers in a positive sense and they upset Milwaukee. Tuesday, it contributed to another loss.

Nixon’s statistics were better than Benjamin’s, but not by much. Nixon played 20 minutes off the bench and made only 3 of 10 shots. He did have 7 assists, though.

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“It’s going to take Norm awhile,” Chaney said. “You can’t expect the guy to come right back in and play like he used to.”

You can expect the Clippers to continue adjusting for a while. Nimphius joins the team tonight against Houston at the Sports Arena. And when Jamaal Wilkes (sprained ankle) and Derek Smith (torn knee cartilage) are activated, there will be more shuffling of players.

“Maybe there’s no end to it,” Chaney said.

Mostly, the Clippers hurt themselves Tuesday night. They shot only 42.8%, while Seattle made 62.9% of its shots. The Clippers were outrebounded, 45-33, and committed 19 turnovers.

Benefiting most from the Clippers’ listless offense and scarce defense was SuperSonic forward Tom Chambers, who made 12 of 15 shots for a game-high 28 points. All of Seattle’s starters reached double figures, rookie Xavier McDaniel dazzling the crowd and depressing the Clippers by scoring several of his 19 points on acrobatic dunks.

The Clippers offense consisted almost exclusively of Johnson and Cedric Maxwell. Maxwell had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back as a starter after recovering from a strained hamstring.

Clipper Notes

Jamaal Wilkes is eligible to come off the injured list. But it still might be a few days before he is activated. The Clippers want to make sure Wilkes’ ankle is healed. . . . When Wilkes returns, look for either guard Jim Thomas or forward Jay Murphy to be waived. . . . Derek Smith’s rehabilitation of his injured left knee continues to be speedy. Smith is running regularly and working on his jump shot. Smith might be back as soon as Dec. 6, but he would only play on a limited basis at the start. . . . SuperSonic guard Gerald Henderson is not talking to the media here, mostly because the writers said it would have been a good move to sign Norm Nixon.

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