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Cage Comes to Life; So Do Clippers : Forward Gets 28 Points, 18 Rebounds in 121-107 Victory

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Times Staff Writer

Forward Michael Cage of the Clippers has been missing in action for the last two weeks since reports surfaced that he was on the trading block.

However, the trading deadline passed last Sunday, and Cage was still with the Clippers. Coach Don Chaney met with Cage two days ago to reassure him.

And Friday night, Cage broke out of his slump by scoring 28 points and grabbing 18 rebounds as the Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets, 121-107, before an announced crowd of 8,247 fans at the Sports Arena.

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“He was down because of the trade rumors,” Chaney said of Cage. “He had reverted back to last year, and he was passive around the boards.”

Said Cage: “It (the trade speculation) upset me. When a player feels like he’s giving it his all and then hears he’s on the trading block, it really hurts.

“I was really disturbed by it. The postman even told me that I was going to be traded. But I just laughed.

“I feel like that’s behind me now. But the pain still goes on.”

The win assured that the Clippers (9-42) will finish the season with no worse a record than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished with a 9-73 record, the worst in National Basketball Assn. history.

“To be honest, I never even thought about it,” Chaney said. “I knew that we’d get our ninth win eventually.”

Said Clipper guard Larry Drew: “I don’t think any of the players were thinking just about the ninth win. At this point, all we can do is finish strong and do our best.”

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The Clippers have had success against Denver this season, beating the Nuggets three times at the Sports Arena. Denver is the only team that the Clippers have a winning record against this season.

“We match up well against them,” Chaney said. “At home they can beat anyone, but they’re just not that good of a road team.”

Kenny Fields scored 18 points for the Clippers before suffering a strained right calf in the fourth period.

Center Benoit Benjamin had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 blocked shot. The Clippers outrebounded Denver, 56-42.

Guard Darnell Valentine added 14 points and passed off for 10 assists, while Drew had 14 points and 8 assists. Quintin Dailey scored 14 points.

Alex English led Denver with a game-high 40 points. English scored 36 points in the first three quarters, but he was held to just 4 in the final period.

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Darrell Walker added 18 points, and Lafayette Leaver had 16 points and 9 assists.

Denver (23-31) has lost three straight. And the Nuggets are 0-12 on the road against Pacific Division teams.

“This was the low point of the year,” said Denver Coach Doug Moe. “Tonight we surpassed our level of ineptness. If I wasn’t on this side it would have been comical.

“We surpassed ourselves on effort,” Moe continued “We played so . . . bad that you couldn’t tell how good the effort was.”

With the score tied at 92-92 with 9:19 left, the Clippers blitzed the Nuggets, 21-8, in a 6 1/2-minute span to put the game away.

Benjamin had 9 points and 4 rebounds in the fourth period, and Cage had 7 points and 7 rebounds. Drew passed off for 4 assists in the final period.

The Nuggets shot just 34.7% in the fourth period, making 8 of 23 shots from the floor.

The Clippers got off to a fast start, scoring eight consecutive points to open the game. It was their second fastest start of the season. The Clippers had a 10-0 led in a game against San Antonio earlier this season.

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Fields scored 12 points in the first quarter as the Clippers took a 33-24 lead into the second period. Cage had 8 points in the first period.

Los Angeles shot 57.1% from the field in the first period, hitting 12 of 21 shots.

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