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Clippers Look Sharp but Fall Apart in 2nd Half : Rockets Come Back to Hang 13th Straight Defeat on Los Angeles, 106-100

Times Staff Writer

The only fashionable statement to come out of the Houston Rockets’ 106-100 victory over the Clippers Thursday night at the Summit is that Coach Don Casey is having a positive influence on a team stuck in last place in the Pacific Division. His own players say it, and so does the opposition.

Mr. Blackwell, apparently, would disagree. A ranking of the best-dressed coaches in the National Basketball Assn. by a USA Today sportswriter put Casey in a last-place tie with the Denver Nuggets’ Doug Moe, who would have had the basement to himself until Casey’s elevation from assistant to head coach last week.

Casey, who has enough to worry about with a team that has lost 13 straight and dropped to 10-30 overall, didn’t think the ranking fit.

“All I know is that (Norm) Nixon and my wife pick out my clothes,” Casey said. “That’s my excuse. Besides, I saw Dave DuPree (the USA Today reporter) at our place (the Sports Arena) a while ago, and he looked like he was going to a taping of ‘Hee-Haw.’ He’s a fine one to talk.”

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On the court, the Clippers were quite the rage in the first half, when they jumped to a 58-42 lead, due in large part to Casey’s most prominent addition to the team, a trapping defense. That was the most points the Clippers had scored in the first 2 quarters since Dec. 20 against the Warriors in Oakland. It was also their biggest halftime lead since Nov. 5 at Miami, their second game of the season.

When Benoit Benjamin opened the third quarter with a 10-foot baseline jumper, the lead went to 18 points, 60-42. The Clippers looked nothing like the outfit that has been taken to the cleaners so often in recent weeks.

And then they fell apart. Houston, which moved into a first-place tie with the Utah Jazz in the Midwest Division, went on a 22-9 run early in the second half and finally pulled even, 69-69, on Mike Woodson’s layup. The Clippers, trying to hold on as their energy faded, soon took a slight lead again, but the Rockets came back and took control for good midway through the fourth quarter.

“We came so close,” said Reggie Williams, who had a game-high 26 points, including 3 of 5 3-point shots, off the bench. “We’ve been losing and we wanted this one real bad. We outplayed them, but we didn’t win.”

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Indeed, they did not. But few teams would have won after being outscored, 64-42, in the second half.

Casey was particularly encouraged by the intensity on the trap, which limited the Rockets to 41.4% shooting and Akeem Olajuwon to 20 points, including only 9 in the first half. Joe Wolf had a season-high 16 points, hitting 8 of 11 shots.

Benjamin had 13 rebounds, even if only 3 came in the second half. Nixon, while scoring only 4 points, had 15 assists.

Houston Coach Don Chaney was impressed with the way the Clippers attacked on defense. He credited Casey for that.

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“He’s cut the edge off them,” said Chaney, a former Clipper assistant with Casey under Jim Lynam and later the head coach, with Casey as the No. 2 man. “He gained them some leverage by attacking us with the trap. That was very good strategy. Had they been man-to-man, we would have won by 20. But the zone trap shut off our game to the big men and made us take outside shots.

“He stayed with the game plan very well. . . . Akeem and Otis (Thorpe) were not able to get the ball much, and they gambled that we wouldn’t hit our outside shots. It worked in the first half, but we did a better job in the second half.”

Clipper Notes

For the Record: A story in Thursday’s editions on Clipper Coach Don Casey contained the wrong first name of the coach for whom Casey had worked at Temple University. His name was Harry Litwack. . . . Rob Lock played his second game for the Clippers, after having been released from his contract from Reggio Calabria in the Italian pro league. A third-round draft pick from the University of Kentucky, Lock originally bypassed the Clippers because they wouldn’t sign him to a guaranteed contract, while the Italian pro league gave him that, a rent-free apartment, two cars to use and other perks. Basically, everything was paid for except gas and food, and the latter was often taken care of when he ate with the team. Still, Lock said he won’t miss it. “We were in the southern part of Italy, where very few people spoke English,” he said. “At first, it was great. But when I was over there for Christmas and then when I had been over for 5 months, I’d had enough.” Lock, who is listed at 6 feet 9 inches but is actually 6-10 1/2, wears uniform No. 44.

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Danny Manning was the only Clipper to finish in the top 10 in all-star voting, the injured rookie getting 236,149 votes for seventh place among Western Conference forwards. . . . The Clipper record for consecutive losses is 19, set March 11-April 13, 1982. . . . The Clippers made 3 3-point shots, more than they had in the previous 8 games combined.


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