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Clippers Top Pacers as Harper Scores 39 : NBA: Surging L. A. runs away from Indiana, 128-102, to improve record to 9-12.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers reached the nine-victory total five games earlier than last season, thanks to a 128-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night.

And thanks to Ron Harper.

Tuesday night, against one of the most-improved teams in the league, Harper scored 39 points, one shy of his career high, for the second consecutive game.

Harper had 30 heading into the fourth quarter, but he scored all the Clipper points in a 10-2 run in the third quarter that turned the game into a rout and sent Los Angeles toward to its first three-game winning streak of the season.

After the victory before 8,809 at the Sports Arena, they have now beaten the top two teams in the Central Division--Chicago and Indiana.

They have stayed with the three top Pacific teams--the Lakers, Portland and Seattle--for 3 1/2 quarters on the road.

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They lost by a point to New York, the leader in the Atlantic. They haven’t played Utah, No. 1 in the Midwest, but lost by a point to No. 2 San Antonio and have already defeated No. 3 Denver twice.

There will be more tests on the road ahead. The Clippers, who improved to 9-12, play 10 of their next 13 games on the road. They are 7-7 with Harper.

“We are trying to break .500 by the end of the month, and we want to do it as soon as possible,” said Charles Smith, who, with 19 points, was one of six Clippers in double figures.

“Tonight was a really big test for us, and we all knew it. Maybe that’s the reason we came out so tight--missing free throws and layups--because we knew this was important to us.”

The Pacers, approximately two months ahead of last season’s win total even after dropping to 13-8, began the night just a half-game behind the Bulls in the Central. From the start it appeared Indiana would have little trouble keeping pace.

Reggie Miller’s jumper from the top of the key 23 seconds into the game started a Pacer run that reached 8-0 and then 12-2 with 9:01 remaining in the opening quarter. Indiana, which is 0-5 against Western Conference teams, made 12 of 20 attempts (60%) in the quarter, but the Clippers pulled even five minutes later on Ken Norman’s layin.

That made it 20-20, and the Clippers took their first lead early in the second quarter, 37-35, when Smith connected on a short baseline jump shot with 10:21 to play. That was part of a 7-2 run when the advantage reached 41-37.

But when the Pacers took the lead back at 46-44 with 6:06 left, they held it the rest of the half, including 59-58 at intermission. The Clippers used a 10-4 surge in the final 1:58 to get that close.

Indiana’s Chuck Person had 18 of his season-high 42 points by then. Smith and Harper both had 13 first-half points for the Clippers, and Harper, coming off his 39-point performance in Saturday’s victory over Denver, also had five of his seven steals.

But the Clippers took control in the third quarter behind Harper’s scoring burst and pushed their lead to 11.

It was 76-73 when he hit a three-point shot from the left corner with 4:53 left.

It was 79-75 when he drove in for a seven-foot bank shot with 4:33 left.

It was 81-75 when he hit a three-point shot from the right side with 4:11 left.

It was 84-75 when he hit a straight-away jump shot with 3:33 left.

After four consecutive baskets by Harper, it was timeout Indiana. And 86-75, Clippers.

“We tried to double (team) him and stop his drives,” Indiana Coach Dick Versace said. “He’s unbelievable. His pull-up threes on the break broke our back.”

Clipper Notes

Before the game, the Pacers placed veteran forward Calvin Natt on the injured list with a bruised right knee and activated rookie George McCloud. The seventh pick overall in the draft, McCloud had been out since Dec. 8 with sprained ankles.


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