Walker Helps Knicks Run Over Clippers : He Comes Off Bench to Score 25 as Los Angeles Loses Fifth Straight

Times Staff Writer

Forward Kenny (Sky) Walker of the New York Knicks made a New Year's resolution to concentrate on becoming a better player.

Walker didn't break it on the first day of 1988.

Walker came off the bench to score 25 points as the Knicks crushed the Clippers, 115-96, Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Clippers (8-17), who have lost five straight games and seven of their last eight, are dropping faster than the big apple that fell in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve.

"It's not time to panic," said guard Mike Woodson, who led the Clippers with a season-high 36 points. "We played well all night long until the last quarter."

The Clippers hung tough for 3 1/2 quarters. But Walker was the catalyst as New York destroyed the Clippers with a 23-9 run in the final six minutes.

Walker has played a key role in the Knicks' two-game winning streak, their longest this season. He also had a season-high 25 points in New York's 123-110 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

There was speculation in the New York media Thursday that the Knicks will trade Walker to the Golden State Warriors for guard Chris Mullin, who was a star at St. John's University. Mullin is undergoing alcohol rehabilitation. However, team officials deny the rumors.

"We have never ever talked about Kenny Walker for any trade," said Rick Pitino, the Knicks' first-year coach.

Pitino benched Walker, who struggled as a starter in the first 19 games of the season. Walker, however, has made a bigger contribution to the Knicks in nine games as their sixth man than he did as a starter.

Walker may be a reserve, but he's playing more that Johnny Newman, who beat him out of his starting job. Newman played just 14 minutes against the Clippers, scoring 10 points, compared to Walker's 34 minutes.

Walker has adjusted to his new role.

"I really like the last couple of games (coming off the bench)," Walker said. "If it continues the rest of the season, I think I can only give the team firepower of the bench and provide a spark.

"I look at it as something very positive. If teams worry about me coming off the bench, it makes me feel good. I really like the situation that I'm in right now."

Said Pitino: "As a starter, Walker was getting two fouls right at the beginning, every time out. Now, when all the early fouls get out of the way, we put him in."

Guard Gerald Wilkins, also mentioned in trade talk for Mullin, will remain here if he continues to play as he did against the Clippers. Wilkins scored 20 points and passed off for a season-high 10 assists in 33 minutes. Rookie guard Mark Jackson had 13 assists and 13 assists, 10 in the second half. He started fast, scoring 12 points in the first half as New York took a one point lead, 53-52, at halftime.

Center Patrick Ewing, off to the best start of his National Basketball Assn. career, dunked his way to 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Ewing owned Clipper center Benoit Benjamin, who had 7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots before fouling out in the final period.

Benjamin wasn't the only Clipper who had a poor game.

Rookie forward Reggie Williams made just 2 of 15 shots and scored 7 points, and guard Larry Drew hit 5 of 15 shots and had 11 points.

It appears that the Clippers, who live and die with Woodson's jumper, are relying too much on him.

Woodson, who had shot 31% in his last three games, was hot in the first half, scoring 21 points as he sank 9 of 12 shots from the floor. He eventually cooled off, scoring six points in the final quarter, and once again the Clippers didn't have anyone who could pick up the slack.

The word has gotten out around the NBA that the way to beat the Clippers is to close down the middle and force them to shoot outside because they don't have anyone who can consistently score inside other than forward Michael Cage, who had 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Knicks.

The Clippers are hoping that rookie forward Joe Wolf, who saw limited duty in his first game back after minor knee surgery on Dec. 11, can reinforce their front line.

Wolf, who missed eight games, was rusty from the layoff, scoring 4 points in 19 minutes.

"We desperately need some inside help," said guard Quintin Dailey, who came off the bench to score 13 points in 16 minutes. "We're just a jump-shooting team, so when we're not hitting our outside shots we can get blown out. We can't live on the jump shot alone."

The Clippers, who were blown out by the Phoenix Suns in the first game of their longest trip of the season, were out of this one after the Knicks outscored them by 14 points in the fourth quarter.

It was a virtual replay of their last game, in which they blew a 21-point lead and wound up losing by 19 points.

You don't have to be Coach Gene Shue to detect that a trend is developing.

"Maybe we're running out of gas," Shue said "Our last three games have been very similar. We get beat in the fourth quarter.

"The bottom line is that the defense has let us down in the last four to five games. We're making defensive errors that are hurting us. We're going to have to shore up our defense."

Clipper Notes The Clippers play the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at the Omni. . . . Owner Donald T. Sterling, who made the Eastern trip last season, attended the game. Gene Shue had a discussion with referees Bill Saar and Ronnie Nunn in the hallway outside the locker rooms after the game. Shue felt the Clippers were cheated out of a 20-second timeout, which they used when the Garden public address announced errored by telling the crowd that Clipper center Benoit Benjamin had been called for his fifth foul late in the fourth quarter, when he had been actually been called for a three-second violation. . . . The crowd was announced as 11,820 but appeared a lot smaller.

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