Clippers Start Right With Newcomers : Pro basketball: Rogers scores 20, Williams 14 in 112-106 victory over the Suns.
The Clippers, who went a month before winning their first game last season, are ahead of schedule.
The Clippers, who came within one loss of tying the NBA record for most losses at the start of a season by losing their first 16 games last year, won this season opener, defeating the Phoenix Suns, 112-106, Friday night before an announced crowd of 13,281 at the Sports Arena.
Sun forward Charles Barkley, who sat out a game against the Clippers last season saying, “It’s only the Paper Clips,” thinks the Clippers, who won only 17 games last season, have improved.
“I think they’ve done better,” said Barkley, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds but only five points in the second half. “They’ve made some nice trades and changes and there’s reason to be optimistic.”
Center Brian Williams, forward Rodney Rogers and rookie guard Brent Barry, acquired in a draft-day trade with the Denver Nuggets, played key roles as the Clippers defeated the Suns for only the second time in their last 11 games.
Rogers had a team-high 20 points as a reserve, including 14 in the final quarter while making all five of his shots and all four of his free throws.
“We really needed that,” Rogers said. “We made some good plays down the stretch.”
With the Clippers leading, 98-93, after a three-point play by Sun guard Kevin Johnson, who had 39 points, Rogers dunked and added a free throw to give the Clippers a 101-93 lead with 1:55 remaining.
Bothered by stomach flu, Williams had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Williams, who had eight points in the final quarter, making eight of 12 free throws, had to be helped off the court with 50.4 seconds remaining after he was accidentally kicked in the groin by Barkley, who was called for a foul.
Williams missed both free throws after a timeout, but Loy Vaught, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds, made a layup after his second miss.
With point guard Pooh Richardson sidelined by a foot injury, the Clippers may have found another in Barry. The rookie had seven points and two assists in 13 minutes. Starting point guard Terry Dehere had seven points and seven assists.
Clipper Coach Bill Fitch said the trade is already paying dividends.
“I took a lot of heat for it,” Fitch said. “It’s always a gamble, but you have to roll the dice once in a while.
“Williams was like an iron man out there. Rodney you give a game ball to for just sitting. He was the odd man out when it came to which forward was going to sit [at the start of the game].”
Williams said he was determined to maintain the lead.
“It was exciting in the fourth quarter, wasn’t it,” Williams said. “I’m used to that [in Denver], at least having a chance to be in it. I hope it stays that way.”
Forward Eric Piatkowski had 14 points in 22 minutes as a reserve.
The Clippers, trailing 66-58, outscored the Suns, 26-8, in an eight-minute spurt at the end the third quarter and the start of the fourth to take control.
Clipper center Stanley Roberts, who hadn’t played a regular-season game since Dec. 4, 1993 after rupturing both Achilles’ tendons, entered the game with 6:45 remaining in the second quarter.
Roberts, who was held out of the exhibition season after reporting to training camp overweight and out of shape, seemed over-anxious to score and had his first shot blocked by Joe Klein.
But he quickly recovered, making two of six shots and scoring four points in eight minutes.
Referees Ed Middleton, Jack Nies, Bill Spooner, who’ve been locked out by the NBA, picketed the players’ entrance to the Sports Arena. “I think it’s just a matter of them sitting down and negotiating with us fairly and that hasn’t happened yet,” Middleton said. Sun forward Charles Barkley hopes the regular officials return soon. “These guys aren’t used to calling NBA games and with two of them, it’s a disadvantage,” he said.