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Harper’s 39 Help Beat Nuggets Again : Clippers: His two baskets down the stretch help ensure a 114-108 victory as the club improves to 8-4 at home.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers invested heavily Saturday night in Ron Harper Savings and Loan.

“You go to the bank that has the highest interest rate,” said Coach Don Casey, who should be ready to mortgage the Sports Arena in support of his star guard.

The dividends were healthy: Harper had 39 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots to lead the Clippers past the Denver Nuggets, 114-108, before 10,024.

That says a lot about the Clippers’ rising stock, too. Two home victories already this season with great defense down the stretch against the highest-scoring team in the league. Victories in five of their last six games at the Sports Arena, with close road losses to the Lakers, Seattle and Portland.

Against the Nuggets, who are 14-9 overall and 0-2 against the Clippers, it was apparent early who would broker a victory. Harper, who fell one point short of his career high, set Feb. 4, 1987, while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, scored 23 points in the first half on 11-of-13 shooting. And of his 16 points in the final two quarters, four came when it mattered most.

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First, with the score 108-108 in a game in which neither team led by more than three points up to that time, he scored on a layup with 1:47 to play that put the Clippers ahead.

Then, after Todd Lichti, starting in place of injured Fat Lever, Denver’s No. 1 rebounder and No. 2 scorer, saw the ball go off his hands and out of bounds, Harper converted inside again with 1:07 left.

“You could see it,” Clipper Tom Garrick, who had 13 points and six assists, said of Harper. “You could see he was on a roll. His jumper was working. He got his acrobatic moves going. He was confident of everything he threw up on the court. You could tell, and you could tell the opponents were aware of it. They were all back on their heels waiting for him to do something.”

The four-point lead was more than enough, as the Nuggets went scoreless after Blair Rasmussen’s free throw with two minutes remaining and without a field goal for the final 2:53. They only had 17 points in the last 12 minutes, after getting 19 fourth-quarter points in a 129-121 loss Nov. 14.

For the first time since Dec. 7, the Clippers (8-12) were at full strength, at least officially. Joe Wolf’s lower back still bothers him and Harper’s right hip is sore. But all 12 players were in uniform.

Harper immediately proceeded to inflict more pain. For the Nuggets, that is.

Averaging 20.4 points coming in, he had 23 in the first half as the Clippers took a 63-55 lead. Ken Norman, back in the starting lineup after a three-game absence because of injury, added 12 of his 28. Norman also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

That was Harper’s start. His second-half finish, modest in numbers but bold in style and timing, gave him the most points by a Clipper since Derek Smith had 41 on April 3, 1985, and tied him with Norm Nixon for the second-highest total ever by a Los Angeles Clipper.

“I don’t worry about how many points I score,” said Harper, who had 36 as a Clipper Nov. 26 against Chicago. “As long as we’re in the ballgame and have a chance to win.

“My teammates were getting me the ball in scoring position--the wing, where I love to receive the ball. It was a good start for the team.”

Nobody doubted that.

“Explosive offense,” Garrick said. “Most of the plays were directed to him, or as an option, down the last minutes. They were almost all Harp’s calls. Not so much on set plays all the time, but to get him the ball and let him free-lance.”

Clipper Notes

Coaches say Wednesday’s victory over Detroit was another example of the crowd’s influence on the young Clippers, even if the crowd of 13,041 was about 2,300 below capacity. “It’s not the numbers,” assistant coach Dave Twardzik said. “It’s how loud the people here have been down the stretch in games. . . . It has been tremendous. I don’t know if it has an adverse effect on the team we’re playing, but it definitely helps the home team.”


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