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The Streaks Go On, 103-99

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laker guard Eddie Jones started Tuesday night’s game against the Clippers with plenty of issues to be concerned about. After being linked to various trade rumors the last few years, Jones was well aware of the reports having him being dealt to Charlotte before Thursday’s league trade deadline.

Jones, however, did not talk like a player about to be traded nor did he play like one in the Lakers’ 103-99 victory over the Clippers, who fell to 0-16 to match their worst start and move within one loss of tying the Miami Heat’s NBA mark, set in 1988.

Jones did not lead the Lakers in scoring while finishing with 16 points on four-of-10 shooting. But it’s the way he played that had many of the Sports Arena crowd of 13,380 shouting “Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die” for stretches during the second and third quarters.

“I’m going to still play hard . . . always,” said Jones, who also had two steals and one blocked shot. “I know what’s going on.

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“If it doesn’t happen, it’ll just start up again on July 1 [the first day of the free-agent signing period] . . . It’s been mentally draining, the whole thing.”

If the Lakers decide to send Jones along with center Elden Campbell to the Hornets for Glen Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong (the reported deal), Jones said he’d miss his teammates and the opportunity to finish the season playing for Kurt Rambis, who improved to 7-0 as coach of the Lakers since replacing Del Harris.

“I really enjoy playing for Kurt, I really do,” Jones said. “And, I have good teammates, who I like playing with. This whole thing has nothing to do with [the Lakers]. It’s personal with every other team that seems to want me.”

If the Los Angeles fans have their say, they want the Lakers to stay with the team they have now. Shaquille O’Neal led the way with 31 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and 12 rebounds, followed by Kobe Bryant’s 16 points and five assists. Dennis Rodman, who drew his own assortment of cheers, had his best game as a Laker with a season-high 20 rebounds.

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In winning their eighth consecutive game, the Lakers did not play their best but were good enough to defeat the Clippers, who did not help themselves by making only 23 of 39 free throws.

“When they cut it down to three, I said ‘We’re just making it exciting’ ” Bryant said about the Clippers late fourth-quarter charge. “It never even crossed my mind that we were going to lose the game.”

After being embarrassed in two lopsided losses to the Lakers last month, the Clippers put up a much better fight Tuesday, the first of back-to-back games between the teams with tonight’s game being played at the Great Western Forum.

Whether it was Charles Smith helping out on defense to block a hook shot by O’Neal or Lamond Murray hustling back to reject a layup by Jones, the Clippers did not quit, like they appeared to do in other losses.

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“I thought the guys laid it on the line,” Clipper Coach Chris Ford said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make our foul shots, particularly early on. We played hard but yet not good enough. But that’s the type of effort we need from our players.

“It was a man’s game out there tonight. It was tough with a lot of physical play on both ends of the court.”

Twice, the Lakers looked like they were about to put the game away in the first 40 minutes but the Clippers fought back. The Laker led by 10 points near the end of the second quarter but the Clippers rallied to close within four points early in the third.

Thanks to Rodman’s rebounding, the Lakers jumped back to a big lead heading into the fourth, 72-58, but again, the Clippers rallied. With Darrick Martin directing the offense, the Clippers stayed within striking distance thereafter.

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With 4:08 remaining, two free throws by Martin cut the Lakers’ lead to 88-84. From there, the teams played their best basketball with Bryant scoring five consecutive points and O’Neal making three free throws and a monster dunk over Keith Closs.

The Clippers hung tough behind Maurice Taylor, who had a team-high 24 points, Closs, who had his best game of the year with nine points and three rebounds, and Rodney Rogers, who had nine points and nine rebounds. With less than a minute left and O’Neal on the bench after fouling out, the Clippers had cut their deficit to 98-95 but Jones sealed their fate with two free throws and a fast-break dunk thanks to an alert assist by Bryant.

If the Clippers think that they gained some respect from the Lakers, who will attempt to put them in the history book tonight, they should think again.

“It’s not my problem, I don’t care,” O’Neal said of the possibility of the Clippers getting off to an NBA record-tying 0-17 start.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

LAKERS VS. CLIPPERS THIS DECADE:

1990-91: Lakers, 4-0

1991-92: Lakers, 3-2

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1992-93: Clippers, 3-2

1993-94: Lakers, 3-2

1994-95: Lakers, 3-2

1995-96: Lakers, 4-0

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1996-97: Tied, 2-2

1997-98: Lakers, 4-0

1999: Lakers, 3-0

Since 1984-85: Lakers, 58-16

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At Forum: Lakers, 31-5

At Sports Arena/Pond: Lakers, 27-11

*

CLIPPER LOSSES IN ROW: 16 / Record: 0-16

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LAST VICTORY: April 18, 1998 / 83-77 over Kings

LOSING STREAKS: Clipper record: 20, 1993-94

NBA record: 24, Cleveland, 1993-1995

To start season: 17, Miami, 1988-89

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TONIGHT: Clippers at Lakers, 7:30, Fox Sports West, Ch. 9


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