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A Two-for-Won Day That L.A. Can Easily Afford

The air is so clear the San Gabriel Mountains seem painted onto the blue sky. It is a perfect day to be outside, to run or bike, play touch football or beach volleyball.

Even better, though, is the chance to see Moochie Norris.

Norris plays for the Houston Rockets and has an unrestricted afro, his hair piled so high it waves in the breeze he creates when he runs down the Staples Center basketball floor. And he wears black knee socks too. It is a sight when Norris makes a three-point shot, then wets each palm, wipes his hair, then pulls on his socks. It makes the Clipper fans giggle.

Much better to be indoors, then. It is doubleheader day at Staples Center.

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Clippers-Houston at 12:30, Lakers-Denver at 6:30.

Brats and beer at 12:30, sushi and wine at 6:30.

Sweatshirts and baseball caps at 12:30, silk turtlenecks and hair gel at 6:30.

Nobody else in the country can do this, watch four NBA teams, two NBA games, on the same day, the same place. A bargain when you can pay for parking only once.

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So 34,911 fans (15,914 to see the Clippers, 18,997 to watch the Lakers) come to Staples. There is no telling how many see both games. Apparently it’s not possible to compile that statistic. So maybe it was only a lucky few who watched the Clippers beat the Rockets, 90-83, and the Lakers beat the Nuggets, 105-98.

The surprise, surprisingly, is in the second game when the Nuggets lead the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

Penny Marshall doesn’t care how nice it is outside.

Marshall, movie director and TV star, is one of the people making a day of it at Staples. She is off her feet and cheering loudly when Elton Brand makes a layup in the afternoon and pounding her feet when Shaquille O’Neal takes a length-of-the-court pass from Kobe Bryant and slams it home in the evening.

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She is courtside wearing red, white and blue in the afternoon and on the baseline still wearing red, white and blue in the evening. She has on an American flag pin, a sparkly red, white and blue bracelet, watch and ring. Her glasses are tinted light blue and she wears an FDNY baseball cap.

Between games Marshall will take a nap and grab a smoke in the office of Clipper PR director Joe Safety. He has a couch and Marshall can’t make it home and back because of the Hollywood holiday parade.

Marshall says it is more fun at a Clipper game. The fans are fans and not stargazers. They come for the basketball and drive themselves home. The limo is not waiting. Also, Marshall says, there is that added bit of excitement. “You don’t know the outcome ahead of time,” she says.

Well, that almost isn’t true.

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It is hard work being a sports fan in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Only a special person would want to watch Michael Olowokandi miss a gimme layup with 6:03 left. This chippy would have given the Clippers an 84-79 lead. But it didn’t. And if the Clippers had lost, maybe Marshall wouldn’t say how she thought Olowokandi was improving as a basketball player. But the Clippers did win, and Marshall says Olowokandi is getting better.

Then Marshall goes for a nap.

You know who is getting better?

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Elton Brand is.

Brand is smooth. Brand is quiet. Brand’s 21 points and 10 rebounds, his 10-for-14 shooting, his ninth double-double in 13 games, it is all so soft and silent. Brand is a gradual pleasure, sort of like slipping into a hot bath on a cold day. The appreciation comes slowly and at the end you are feeling good.

Unlike his younger teammates, Brand can focus for an entire game. The youngsters--Darius Miles, Lamar Odom, Quentin Richardson--their attention seems to wander. Build a big lead, blow a big lead, make the fans sweat in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers lead by as many as 21, but in the fourth quarter the Rockets get as close as two, 78-76.

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So the Clippers end a three-game losing streak, and the kids go home happy. And so do the young fans.

But the real fun comes at night. The real fun comes in the last quarter of the second game.

The real fun comes because Nick Van Exel goes off, and Raef LaFrentz makes three-point shots, and James Posey gets serious about guarding Bryant, and O’Neal can’t make free throws. He misses most of them. But not quite all of them.

The real fun comes because the Lakers actually trail, actually have to mount a comeback against the Nuggets. Chick Hearn can be heard yelling, “This is fun,” and it is.

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It is not fun to watch blowouts all the time. Even if the team doing the blowing out is your Lakers. Admit it. A little adversity is a good thing. You, the fan, are growing rusty. You have not been roused into full-throated roaring yet this season.

So it is good to see the Nuggets ahead, 92-90, with 3:49 left in the game. It is great to welcome back Derek Fisher, and the fans give him a standing ovation. Fisher gives the Lakers 14 points and 11 of them are in the fourth quarter. More standing, more cheering.

It is unexpected that this game isn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter. The Lakers learn that if they don’t play all out, full speed, they will actually have to sweat in the fourth quarter. Which is small consolation to the rest of the league.

The day ends well, then. Marshall was last seen high-fiving someone next to her.

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In the afternoon, Glen Rice was booed every time he touched the ball. Same for Van Exel at night. Being a formerly disgruntled and now ex-Laker is bad whichever way you look at it on a Sunday afternoon and evening at Staples Center.

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Diane Pucin can be reached at diane.pucin@latimes.com


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