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Clippers Sail Past Nuggets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you don’t like physical defense, then Tuesday night’s matchup between the Clippers and Denver Nuggets was a can’t-miss game.

With both teams out of playoff contention, the Clippers took advantage of the Nuggets’ Swiss cheese defense down the stretch to win, 110-106, before 10,706 at Staples Center.

Rookie Lamar Odom scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter for the Clippers, who won their second game in a row, their longest winning streak since Christmas.

“We just think he’s going to get better all of the time,” interim Coach Jim Todd said about Odom, who added nine assists and four rebounds.

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“He’s done a nice job at the point. . . . we’re just trying to take advantage of the situation.”

The Clippers, who improved to 14-50 and are 1-1 against the Nuggets, followed their pattern of playing strong early.

With shooting guard Eric Piatkowski seemingly scoring at will, the Clippers controlled the tempo throughout much of the first half and opened a nine-point lead in the second quarter, thanks to solid minutes from backup point guard Jeff McInnis, who signed with the team for the rest of the season before the game.

But the Nuggets rallied and tied the score at halftime, 55-55, with their bench players combining for 30 points. Veteran Chris Gatling did most of the damage, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the first half.

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The third quarter was another disaster for the Clippers. Forward Antonio McDyess and former Laker Nick Van Exel combined for 33 points as Denver used a 20-6 run to open an 86-76 lead entering the fourth.

That’s when Odom took over. After scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ win Sunday at Golden State, Odom responded again. He scored seven points in a row and teamed with Derek Anderson to score 18 in a row to lead the Clippers to a 106-103 lead with 1:56 remaining.

After a Gatling free throw, the key play came when McDyess was called for an offensive foul setting a screen on Anderson. McDyess was given a technical for disputing the call and Piatkowski added a free throw to give the Clippers a three-point lead.

Odom clinched the victory with three free throws, giving the Clippers their 14th victory.

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“We had a little lead early. . . . and they came back,” Todd said. “History tells us that we’ve been folding lately in situations like that. . . . But we played tough the whole way.”

Piatkowski finished with a career-high 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

“Once the ball starts going in for you, no matter what you do it feels good,” Piatkowski said. “You don’t have to worry about your form or follow through. . . . I just hope I can keep the feeling going.”

McDyess, who scored 20 points in the second half, led Denver with 31 points and seven rebounds. Van Exel finished with 16 points for the Nuggets, who have lost seven games in a row.

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