Clippers Are Making Progress, Lose by Only 18 : Nuggets Can't Equal 46-Point Opening-Game Margin but Score 124-106 Win

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers opened their season here in November with a 46-point loss to the Denver Nuggets.

So, their return visit Saturday night could be viewed as some indicator of their progress. In this case, progress meant losing by only 18 points, 124-106.

No one ever said progress comes quickly for the Clippers, who have lost 5 straight and 19 of their last 21.

"The season-opening game was one of those games where we were high emotionally," Denver Coach Doug Moe said. "I think the Clippers are going to be a good team. They just don't have any confidence."

It's difficult, however, to have faith in a team that plays no defense and doesn't rebound.

"The first time we played here we weren't ready to play," said Clipper Coach Gene Shue after seeing his club lose its 15th consecutive road game. "We're better now, but we're still not good enough to win. We just have too many holes."

The Clippers were defenseless against the Nuggets, the NBA's top offensive team. At times, Denver looked like it was running a layup drill.

"We didn't get back on defense, and they got layup after layup," Clipper captain Mike Woodson said.

Forward Alex English (22 points) and guard Lafayete (Fat) Lever (25 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) showed why they have been selected as starters in the National Basketball Assn. All-Star game next weekend in Chicago.

"We were down a little bit, but Doug let us know that we couldn't take the Clippers for granted," Lever said.

And the Clippers let Michael Adams, the Nuggets' pint-sized point guard, roam from baseline to baseline. Adams scored 14 points and was credited with 12 assists.

"Michael Adams played real well," Lever said. "With Mike running around and making steals, it gets us going as well as the fans."

Forward Blair Rasmussen and center Dan Schayes, who had 18 points apiece, scored at will inside. And Schayes grabbed 15 rebounds as the Nuggets out-rebounded the Clippers, 59-41.

Clipper center Benoit Benjamin, who blocked 10 shots to set a franchise record in Friday night's 97-88 loss to Milwaukee, returned to normal.

Benjamin had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot and 1 assist in 23 minutes as Shue took him into and out of the lineup because he wasn't playing aggressive defense, failed to rebound and took low percentage jump shots.

Benjamin said his injured left knee gave him trouble because he didn't get a chance to get warm. He got cold on the bench, where he sat for the entire fourth quarter.

"I was being shuffled in and out so much that my knee stiffened up," Benjamin said. "I felt it I would have played more I would have done better."

Guards Quintin Dailey and Woodson provided offense for the Clippers.

Dailey came off the bench to score 21 points in 24 minutes, and Woodson had 20 points. Forward Michael Cage had 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Dailey has been the Clippers' most effective offensive weapon recently, averaging 21 points in the last two games.

However, Shue doesn't plan to move him into the starting lineup.

"I'm just doing my job," Dailey said. "He (Shue) has to make that decision whether or not to start me."

The lopsided loss gave Shue a chance to experiment after Denver wrapped up the game in the second half.

He took a long look at guard Lancaster Gordon, who made his season debut after undergoing knee surgery last summer. Gordon played 11 minutes in the second half. He hit his first shot and wound up with 4 points, 2 blocked shots, 1 rebound and 1 assist.

The Clippers trailed, 62-55, at halftime, but were blown away in the third quarter, 34-22 as Denver took command of the game.

Clipper Notes

Clipper Coach Gene Shue is one loss away from becoming the first coach in National Basketball Assn. history to lose 800 games. He has a career record of 767 wins and 799 losses in 21 seasons. Shue will probably reach the milestone Thurs tday when the Clippers play their next game against the Lakers at the Sports Arena. Shue would rather remember the wins than the losses. "What do I care?" Shue said when asked how it feels to approach loss No. 800. . . . Denver guard Lafayette Lever, who leads the NBA with six triple-doubles, just missed getting one against the Clippers, falling one assist short.

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