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Clippers: Anything Is Possible

As of Thursday morning, they had more victories than the San Antonio Spurs, more than the Philadelphia 76ers, more than the Detroit Pistons, more than the Atlanta Hawks, more than the Houston Rockets, more than Milwaukee, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, Indiana, Washington, New Jersey, Sacramento or any of the four NBA expansion teams.

They had only one less victory than the Boston Celtics, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Phoenix Suns or the New York Knicks. They had two fewer victories than the Lakers. They had a six-game winning streak and a physically sound starting lineup.

They?

Who are they ?

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Ladies and gentlemen . . .

(Lights dim.)

Introducing . . .

(Spotlight hits them.)

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Your Los Angeles Clippers!

Stop the presses.

Yes, America’s funniest basketball team is doing the laughing now.

They are one of the hottest teams in sports, and living proof that if you stay alive long enough, you’ll see anything--comets, eclipses, six-game Clipper winning streaks, you name it.

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Maybe nobody’s shopping at the mall for Clipper souvenir hats and shirts. Nine people out of 10 couldn’t tell you what colors the Clippers wear.

But don’t look now, because those makers of mirth, those hopeless little hoopsters who haven’t had a winning season since Jimmy Carter was President of the United States have finally transformed themselves into an honest-to-goodness professional basketball team.

Remember, we are talking here about basketball’s version of the Edsel, the “Hudson Hawks” of the NBA, the basketball team only a mother could love, and a not-very-particular mother at that.

Yet in their latest game at the Sports Arena, the Clipsters did a tap dance on the faces of the washed-up Detroit Pistons, 101-96.

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How good are they? They whipped the Pistons with Charles Smith, James Edwards, Gary Grant and Ken Norman not in the starting lineup, that’s how good.

And just think of how good they could be. Smith is just now rounding into shape. He played 29 minutes Wednesday night and got 23 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. He so frequently took Mark Aguirre to the cleaners, Aguirre came back folded in a cardboard box, no starch.

(I forgot to see if after the game the Pistons shook their hands.)

Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that Clipper management supposedly was about to send Coach Mike Schuler packing? Wasn’t it just three or four weeks ago that Ron Harper was disappointed with the club’s morale and Olden Polynice was disappointed with how many minutes the coach was giving to Olden Polynice?

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Hey, OK, so Schuler isn’t the most exciting coach in the world. At least, he doesn’t throw hockey sticks at the referee.

You’ve got to love a basketball team that from 1981 to 1991 never won more than 32 games in a season. I mean, Nevada Las Vegas won more than that.

Already, though, our heroes have defeated 12 opponents--with 60 games to be played!

The invisible men of the NBA are finally coming into focus.

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If this keeps up, ABC will televise them on “Monday Night Basketball.”

What went right?

Well, for starters, the Clippers have their starters. Nobody’s knee has crumpled like aluminum foil. Nobody is in a contract holdout or a hospital. Nobody is sitting on the bench wearing two left shoes, sulking, like a certain center we used to know and not love.

The enthusiasm Polynice has brought them at center is balanced by the steady calm of Edwards. When Schuler needs to energize the team, he uses Polynice, whose blood runs hot. When Schuler needs to calm the team, he uses Edwards, whose head is clear and pulse slow.

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The razzle-dazzle Grant gave them at guard is counteracted by the unforced play of Doc Rivers. When Schuler can afford to turn his team loose, Grant can be effective. When Schuler needs good shots and no turnovers, he is better off using Rivers.

Neither Harper nor Danny Manning is noticeably limping. Loy Vaught is a board-banger, Norman a scorer. The Clippers are nine-deep, which is more than the Lakers can say, and would be a stone lock to make the playoffs were the Western Conference not so deep and strong.

Were they in the Eastern Conference, I am not so sure that the Clippers wouldn’t be better than every team except the Chicago Bulls and possibly Boston. The only reason the Knicks might be better is that they get more crowd support than the Clippers at home.

Will that ever change?

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Will the Clipsters start selling out the Arena? Will celebrities start sitting at courtside? Will customers line up to buy those Clipper Girl souvenir calendars?

Yes! It’s a merry Clipper Christmas, ho, ho, ho. We could be looking at the biggest miracle since the one on 34th Street.


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