If the Clippers aren't careful, they might lose their premier position in the NBA draft.
A team that seemed like a safe bet to finish with the NBA's worst record, after opening the season with 16 consecutive losses, now seems intent on finishing the season with a flourish.
Winning for the seventh time in their last nine games at the Sports Arena, the Clippers embarrassed the Detroit Pistons, 117-87, Wednesday night before an announced crowd of 7,750. The 30-point winning margin was their largest of the season and the biggest since a 34-point victory over the Denver Nuggets on April 11, 1992.
Although the Clippers (14-50) still have the worst record in the NBA, they are only three games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Bullets, who share the league's second-worst record.
If the Clippers finish the season with the worst record, they're guaranteed no worse than the fourth selection in the June draft and they'll have a better shot at winning the lottery.
But the way they're playing now, there's no guarantee that they won't continue their late-season surge.
"That hasn't crossed my mind," Coach Bill Fitch said. "I've been there a few times. I've been accused of that, but it doesn't cross my mind and I don't think it ever will. There's enough out there for everybody.
"I wouldn't mind winning every game we got from here on out and take my chances. The winning habit and playing hard every night and developing the right attitude about your team is far more important than whether you get all the Ping-Pong balls or not."
Clipper forward Harold Ellis agreed, saying: "We don't want to have the worst record in the league. A lot of people might think that we want (the worst record), but we want to win and we want to catch some people that are in front of us."
Guard Mailk Sealy scored 25 points, and forward Loy Vaught had 21 points and 14 rebounds, including a season-high eight offensive rebounds.
"I've set a personal goal for the team for 20 wins this year," Vaught said. "I think if we'll do that under these circumstances, it's just like winning 40."
Center Tony Massenburg, who sprained his left ankle in practice Tuesday, had 13 points and nine rebounds. Ellis, who played a season-high 28 minutes as a reserve and was assigned to check Piston forward Grant Hill, had 12 points and two assists.
Hill, the odds-on favorite to to be named NBA rookie of the year, had a season-high 28 points, and center Oliver Miller had a season-high 19 points.
"Harold came off the bench to do one thing and that was to guard Hill," Fitch said. "I thought he did an excellent job of that. He created what we needed, the hustle plays.
"Harold doesn't always do the right thing, but he tries to do the right thing and that sometimes gets him places other people don't go. I thought he did a good job."
The Pistons have lost 11 of 17 games since the All-Star break, including their last four.
"I haven't been feeling any pressure," Piston Coach Don Chaney said. "There's always pressure just being an NBA coach. But as far as pressure from management (goes), I think they understand that it's hard to win when you're rebuilding and you get injuries."