A night of close shaves for the Clippers began before Wednesday night’s game at the Sports Arena, when Eric White played barber and gave teammate Ken Norman a haircut.
Then the real cutting began, and the Clippers took a little off the bottom. Namely, they chopped away at Sacramento’s big first-half lead and won, 114-108, to slice the Kings’ hold on sixth place in the Pacific Division to four games with 13 remaining.
Just as important, for appearance sake if nothing else, the win before 8,678 pushed the Clipper record to 16-53. Surpassing last season’s total of 17 wins, which seemed doubtful a month ago, is suddenly a very realistic possibility.
Such statistical-minded notions do not exactly bring hair-raising enthusiasm to Coach Don Casey, but it does show how far the Clippers have come since he took over Jan. 19.
“We don’t pay attention to the standings,” said Casey, who prefers to find victories in areas such as competitiveness and conditioning. “Not now. To me, it’s insignificant. But I guess if you focus on that, it would be nice to be out of the cellar.”
The Clippers took another step to getting out of last place by winning for the fifth time in nine games, including their second close victory. Quintin Dailey, Benoit Benjamin, Charles Smith and Norman all had significant contributions in the final minutes of this one.
Benjamin, who had 14 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots despite not starting for the second straight game because of a bad stomach, tied the game, 105-105, with 3:06 to play on a free throw. Forty-two seconds later, Norman rebounded a Benjamin miss and gave the Clippers the lead.
Smith then scored the winning points on a basket with 1:13 remaining for a 109-105 advantage. Sacramento, which got 26 points and 10 assists from Danny Ainge, stayed close, but Dailey scored three of his game-high 29 points and grabbed a crucial King rebound in the final 38 seconds to secure the victory.
“It’s definitely the start of something,” Smith said. “We’re winning and the guys are playing well. The biggest difference in the whole thing is the emergence of Ben. The way Ben is playing now, it turns the whole thing around because we have the big man in the middle.”
The Clippers trailed by 17 late in the first half, 70-53, but charged back with a 29-12 run for an 82-82 tie on Dailey’s spinning layup with 1:44 to play in the third quarter. That was their first advantage since 10-8.
Ennis Whatley, who has played well since joining the Clippers from Wichita Falls of the Continental Basketball Assn., will be signed to a second 10-day contract today. . . . Planning is under way for a tribute to Norm Nixon, who retired March 16 after a 10-year career. It will be held at an upcoming game. . . . Ken Norman made 13 of 16 shots from the field, including 11 of his first 12. He finished with 26 points. . . . The Clippers play host to San Antonio Friday night.