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New Lineup but Same Result for Clippers : Benjamin, Nixon Don’t Start as Suns Defeat L.A., 114-106, in Overtime

Times Staff Writer

Clipper Coach Gene Shue made good on his thinly veiled threats Saturday, benching two starters--center Benoit Benjamin and guard Norm Nixon--for the first time this season.

But the lineup change did not alter the dismal result as the Clippers lost on the road again, this time to the Phoenix Suns, 114-106 in overtime, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The Clippers (6-10) are 1-9 on the road, including 4 straight losses.

Shue would not directly discuss the benchings, saying instead that the team is not mixing well. And he still was fuming over the Clippers’ 154-104 loss to the SuperSonics at Seattle Friday night.

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“Rarely in my career have I lost a game by 50 points,” he said after Phoenix, a team the Clippers beat in overtime at the Sports Arena Nov. 12, won this time with a 15-7 overtime scoring run. “That, to me, with the way we have performed on the road, was an indication that the lineup I was using was not working.”

Shue paused for a moment, then laughed.

“I guess that’s a fair assessment,” he said.

So when the Clippers took the court Saturday night, they had a lineup that 2 weeks ago would have been the B team in a scrimmage.

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Forward Danny Manning, playing in place of the injured Charles Smith, hadn’t started until 4 games ago.

Forward Ken Norman, who has started all 16 games, was the lone holdover of the original five. He scored 18 points Saturday.

Center Greg Kite, starting for Benjamin, was averaging 14.4 minutes a game.

Guard Quintin Dailey, who took over for the injured Reggie Williams 6 games ago, hasn’t relinquished the spot. Though he had 14 points, he realizes his role is as a reserve.

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Rookie guard Gary Grant made his first professional start, ahead of Nixon.

Clearly, there had been justification for Saturday’s moves, although both Nixon and Benjamin said they did not know a change was coming. Nixon concedes as much, saying he hasn’t been altogether happy with the start of his comeback after 2 years off with injuries.

“I haven’t played terrible, but I haven’t played great,” said Nixon, who has made only 13 of his 35 shots (37.1%) in the last 5 games. “I haven’t played the way I can play, or the way I’ve played in the past.”

But Benjamin, who has been, at best, inconsistent in his efforts on defense and rebounding, was not so understanding. Part of the reason was Shue’s botched communication on the matter, leaving Benjamin and Nixon to find out from reporters that they had been benched.

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“I don’t know,” said Benjamin, who made 3 of 13 shots and had just 3 rebounds against the Suns. “Gene makes the decisions. I don’t understand why I should be benched when I’m out there working hard.

“It’s a mental thing with Gene. He just wants to (fire) me up. I’ve just got to become a better player.”

Shue said he plans to stick with the new starting lineup when the Clippers play the Lakers Tuesday night at the Sports Arena, and perhaps beyond.

“This is not for shock value,” he said. “This is a means of trying to get us to become a better team.”

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Williams, who seems to have adjusted to his role as a reserve, played well Saturday.

The starting off-guard in the first 10 games before going out with an eye injury, Williams scored 29 points against the Suns on 12-of-18 shooting, including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers. His 19 points helped the Clippers gain a 12-point lead, 57-45, with 3:03 to play in the first half. And his second-half play was a key to sending the game into overtime, the second time the teams had finished regulation play tied.

“Reggie had one of those nights when everything was going in,” Shue said.

Likewise for Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson, who scored a career-high 41 points. But that a player named Johnson would do in the Clippers is no surprise.

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Eddie Johnson scored 45 at the Sports Arena, including 43 in the second half. He also averaged 31.5 points in the 5 games against the Clippers last season.

Eddie Johnson did not play Saturday because of tendinitis in the knees, but there was another Johnson to take his place.

Indeed, replacements were something the Clippers became very familiar with on this night.


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