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Lakers Put Aside Clippers : Team Source Says Shue Will Be Fired as Coach Today

Times Staff Writer

Gene Shue wore a black sport coat and a blank facial expression Wednesday night, both perhaps suitable for what appeared to be the occasion of his final game as the Clippers’ coach.

Expected for days now, the inevitability building with each blowout during their 11-game losing streak, a Clipper source said Shue will be fired today and will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant Don Casey, who will have 6 days before the Clippers’ next game.

Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor will meet with Shue this morning, the source said, and an announcement will be made today.

To the apparent end, a somewhat deceivingly easy 111-90 Laker victory before a Forum crowd of 17,301, Shue remained outwardly stoic. He politely cut reporters off before they could ask about his job status.

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“I only want to entertain questions about the game tonight, please,” Shue said. “Sorry to kill the interview, guys.”

While Shue endured the intense speculation about his firing in silence, others spoke loudly in his defense and, in the process, criticized the Clippers’ organization.

Veteran guard Norm Nixon said that during his 6-season stint as a Clipper, he has noticed a lack of consistency.

“I think they (management) put a lot of pressure on everybody, Gene as well as the players,” Nixon said. “We’re a very young team. That’s why we have inconsistency (on the court). You can see it with so many of the things that are done. I better not say anything more. . . .”

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Laker Coach Pat Riley said he empathizes with Shue, whom Riley calls a friend.

“I don’t think it’s a coaching problem,” said Riley, whose team improved to 26-12. “They’ve had 5 (coaches) in 7 years. Gene is one of the best. He’s a victim more than anything else.

“They have talent, but that doesn’t get it done. You have to have patience and let things develop. You can see it in (the Clippers’) advertising, in their marketing. They call themselves the new kids on the block and that they are challenging us. I think that’s put too much pressure on themselves to win right away.”

If this truly was Shue’s finale, the Clippers tried to give him a memorable parting gift, attempting to upset the Lakers, who played as flat for three quarters as Charles Smith’s buzz haircut.

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As late as 5:13 remaining in the third quarter, the Clippers held a slim lead, and they entered the fourth quarter trailing by only 7 points. Then came the Lakers’ wakeup call, a 19-4 run midway through the final period that put the Clippers away and made this loss barely distinguishable from the 10 others during the streak.

For the Lakers, their 16th straight victory at home this season was obtained with a minimum of exertion. Their lackadaisical play through three quarters enabled the depleted Clippers, suiting only 9 players, to stay close.

Michael Cooper led the way with consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, making up for his earlier miss of a fast-break dunk. Cooper scored 8 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Cooper was one of 7 Lakers who scored in double figures. Magic Johnson had 19 points and 13 assists, and James Worthy had a season-high 15 rebounds to go with 16 points. Ken Norman and Quintin Dailey each scored 19 points for the Clippers, and Smith had 17 despite fighting stomach cramps and a sore left knee.

Even without power forward A.C. Green, who suffered a bruised thigh in the second quarter and missed the rest of the game, the Lakers out-rebounded the Clippers, 64-45.

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Neither team shot well, the Lakers making just 46% of their shots and the Clippers 40%. But while Riley said the Lakers played poorly for most of the game, Shue said he was encouraged by the Clippers’ performance, regardless of the results.

“I thought, basically, we played a real good game,” Shue said. “It was sort of like all our games with the Lakers. We held on for 3 quarters and then we can’t hold on after that. We obviously have trouble scoring. When we get down in a game, we don’t have that firepower to get back.

“But I thought we had a real good chance to win the game. I thought our guys played very well.”

The Lakers, conversely, floated through an uninspired second quarter that was highlighted by Cooper’s missed dunk, drawing boos from the crowd.

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“I haven’t done that since elementary school,” Cooper said. “And that was on an 8-foot hoop. It psyched me up. I don’t know whether the fans were ‘Cooping’ me or booing me. But I wanted to do something to change that.”

Compounding the Lakers’ second-quarter problems was Green’s injury. He was kicked in the thigh midway through the quarter, but the Lakers said it did not stiffen on him until halftime.

“I don’t think we started with enough energy,” Riley said. “We weren’t sharp in any way, shape or form. Basically, I think we played to the level of the (opposition’s) record.

“That’s not acceptable. We talked about it after the game. You cannot simply give the effort to the level of competition. You can lose games that way.”

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The Clippers (10-28) seemingly have lost games in every possible manner. Because of that, Shue apparently is on the verge of losing his job, just as Jim Lynam and Don Chaney, before him, lost theirs durng the franchise’s tenure in Los Angeles.

“I think there’s some (compassion) for every coach who’s ever been here,” Nixon said. “It’s not a good situation to be in.”

Riley, whose situation is ideal compared to Shue’s, predicted that if Shue is fired, it probably won’t take him long to find another National Basketball Assn. job. Just like Lynam and Chaney before him.

“Gene’s a survivor,” Riley said. “He’s a lifer. There’s a microscope over there (with the Clippers) that I don’t think is fair. . . . That’s what happens in this business.”

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Laker-Clipper Notes

Rob Lock, the Clippers’ third-round draft choice last June, has been released from his contract in Italy and will be in Los Angeles today. Lock, a 6-foot 9-inch, 235-pound forward from Kentucky, is expected to sign with the Clippers for the remainder of the season, barring contract problems or a failed physical examination. He will replace Dave Popson, whose 10-day contract expired after Tuesday night’s game in Seattle.

The Clippers said that Danny Manning left Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood Wednesday afternoon to recuperate at his Hermosa Beach residence. “His spirits are very good,” said Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor, who visited Manning at the hospital earlier in the week. “As for the surgery, the doctor (Stephen Lombardo) is very pleased with the progress, even though it’s only been a few days.”

Laker forward Orlando Woolridge, who had missed the last 2 games because of the flu, returned Wednesday night. “I’m still a little weak, because I’ve been in bed for 4 days,” Woolridge said. “This is the first time in a few years I’ve had the flu this bad.” . . . Ronnie Lester, former Laker guard and current scout, reportedly will take over advance scouting duties to enable Laker assistant coach Randy Pfund to spend more time working with the team in practice. . . . Despite their 6-day hiatus, the Clippers most likely will practice at Pauley Pavilion, instead of the Sports Arena or Cal State Dominguez Hills, their usual practice sites. A decision is expected today.

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