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Bulls Make Clippers Sweat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers did the expected Wednesday, which alone was probably worthy of front-page coverage. But there was so much more to their 106-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.

Yes, it was Elton Brand’s first game against the Bulls since he was traded to the Clippers in June. And, yes, it also was Tyson Chandler’s first game NBA game in Southern California since he was drafted off the campus of Dominguez High in Compton.

Plus, this was the Clippers’ fifth game without Lamar Odom, who was suspended Nov. 5 for violating the NBA’s drug policy. When he returns is anyone’s guess. The league announced the suspension as a minimum of five games, but there has been no word if it will be more.

And still there was more, although the moment passed without much notice from the crowd of 14,788, who were thankful to see a victory after the Clippers let a 16-point fourth-quarter lead slip away.

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The victory gave the Clippers a 4-4 record, putting them at the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 23, 1996, when they had a 6-6 record en route to a 36-46 mark and their last playoff appearance. That’s a remarkable 374 consecutive games below basketball’s Mendoza Line.

Big deal, Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said at game’s end.

“The only significance I see in it is that it’s another win at home,” he said. “The fact that we’re .500 right now doesn’t mean anything to me right now. If we were undefeated, now that would be a different story.”

There were more than a few frantic moments--this being the Clippers, after all--but Jeff McInnis’ 12-foot jump shot to beat the 24-second clock gave the Clippers a 103-100 lead with 20 seconds to go.

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“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves at the end of the games because we’re not finishing off teams,” said McInnis, who had 16 points and nine assists. Of his critical jump shot, he added, “At that point, it was a broken play. We wanted to run a pick and roll with Earl [Boykins] and Sean Rooks. I saw Sean was stuck with the ball. I knew the shot clock was running down because the crowd was going crazy.”

The fans went crazier when McInnis swished his shot.

A 13-0 run rallied the Bulls to a 98-97 lead, but they couldn’t hold on in the final seconds as Boykins made three of four free throws in the final 14 seconds.

“We got up by 16 and thought the game was over,” Gentry said. “I told our guys this game isn’t over. And in three minutes, the Bulls were right back in the game. They played well. They made defensive stops. They made their shots.”

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Early on, there wasn’t much to like about the game.

No question, there isn’t much to like about the Bulls, period.

They are 1-7. Trade rumors are swirling that they will soon dump power forward Charles Oakley, who criticized Coach Tim Floyd after a 53-point debacle last week against Minnesota. Oakley was fined $50,000 for his comments.

Teenagers Chandler and Eddy Curry aren’t getting much playing time, depriving fans of the Bulls a glimpse at whatever future the team might have during this post-Michael Jordan apocalypse.

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Chandler, picked second overall by the Clippers in the draft and then dealt to Chicago for Brand, didn’t get off the bench Wednesday until Oakley picked up a flagrant foul for hacking Brand with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Chandler had two points in 10 minutes. Curry did not play.

Brand had 20 points to lead the Clippers and Quentin Richardson had 19, 15 in the first half.

At the start, the Bulls hustled and moved the ball smartly against the Clippers.

There were no signs of a repeat of the meltdown against the Timberwolves, which prompted postgame tirades by Floyd (over the players’ lack of effort) and Oakley (commenting on Floyd’s comments).

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The only bit of troubling news for the Clippers by game’s end was that backup point guard Keyon Dooling suffered a sprained left ankle after an awkward collision with Chicago’s Ron Mercer with 3:19 left in the half. Dooling’s status for Friday’s game against Toronto was not immediately certain.


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