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Clippers Run Out of Gas Against Hawks

Times Staff Writer

As Don Casey tries to jockey the Clippers back into mediocrity (could he really be holding out hope for a playoff spot?), it’s fast becoming apparent that he doesn’t have many horses to work with.

Monday night, the Clippers tired in the stretch. They went from only 2 points down at the start of the third quarter to another blowout loss, 130-101, against the Atlanta Hawks before 13,504 at the Sports Arena.

The Clippers were outrebounded, 61-43, with starting forwards Charles Smith (2) and Ken Norman (4) unable to get even close to double figures together.

The Clippers, who lost their 15th straight and fell to 10-32, were outscored, 37-24, in the third quarter.

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“I thought we had great flow in the first half, and then we just collapsed,” Casey said.

The collapse was more like a free fall.

The deficit went from 58-56 at the start of the third quarter to 14 points, 82-68, in all of 6:13. Another Atlanta possession, and the advantage was 16.

The Clippers got back within 9, 89-80, near the end of the third quarter but were pecked apart from there. The Hawks, who broke a two-game losing streak, increased the lead to 31 on 2 occasions in the fourth quarter.

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The Hawks were guaranteed a record of no better than .500 for January before the game even began, since back-to-back defeats at Seattle and Portland had given them a 6-7 mark. This is the first month they have not had a winning record since November, 1985.

They responded by coming back from a 7-point, first-quarter deficit, 21-14, to lead at halftime, 58-56, although it would have been much larger, were it not for Gary Grant.

Grant, in his second game back after missing six straight with a bruised right thigh, kept the Clippers close with his play in the final 1:57 of the second quarter. It started with a layup to close the Atlanta margin to 54-48, and, after Moses Malone was called for traveling, Grant hit a 20-foot jumper from the left side to make it 54-50.

Malone made a pair of free throws for the Hawks, but Grant responded with 2 of his own. The next time down court, the Clipper point guard made a nice pass inside that Benoit Benjamin converted for a dunk.

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Grant ended the half by swatting the ball away from Dominique Wilkins just before a shot attempt, picking it up on the full run and turning it into a layup with 1 second left.

In the first half, Grant had 12 points, along with 7 assists, 5 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He finished the game with 20 points, trailing only Norman’s 22. Wilkins had 15 for Atlanta after 2 quarters, en route to a game-high 29 points.

Clipper Greg Kite was ejected early in the fourth quarter after having two technical fouls were called on him for the same incident. After being called for an offensive foul, he dropped the ball on the stomach of Atlanta’s Cliff Levingston, who was on the floor.

Levingston got a technical himself after throwing the ball back at Kite, hitting the Clipper center in the back of the head as he was walking away. Kite got his second technical--and the early exit--when he grabbed the shoulder of referee Eddie F. Rush while trying to discuss the incident.

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Clipper Notes

The Clippers’ loss Saturday to Milwaukee gave them a 10-31 record at the midpoint of the season. They finished 17-65 in 1987-88. . . . Other mid-season numbers: The Clippers were outscored by their opponents, 115.8-104.5, and out-rebounded, 48.9-43.8, and were the worst team in the league in turnovers (21.7). The plus is in attendance, in which a record pace is being set. The Clippers have averaged 11,397 through the first 16 home games, which would break the San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers’ all-time mark and tie the franchise record, set in 1974-75 by the Buffalo Braves. Last season, they averaged 8,773.

The Clippers, who have worked out at Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Dominguez Hills, the Sports Arena and Pauley Pavilion since the start of training camp, practiced at Occidental College Sunday afternoon. They are exploring the possibility of using it as the permanent practice site. But since most of the players live in the South Bay or the Westside, the Eagle Rock campus is undesirable logistically.

Assistant coach Jim Eyen is in the same predicament as Don Casey, with no job guarantee beyond the end of the season. Casey’s contract was due to run out then anyway, but Eyen left a spot as an assistant at UC Santa Barbara to join the Clippers. “The more I thought about it, I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said. Eyen and Casey met in 1987, when they helped run a basketball camp together in Santa Barbara and stayed in touch over the years. Eyen, who also coached at Santa Barbara City College and Dos Pueblos High School, says the move isn’t a gamble. “There wasn’t any decision,” he said, noting his enthusiasm at the possibility of coaching in the National Basketball Assn. “It was something I really wanted to do.”

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