Corey Maggette raced ahead of a pack of chasing Lakers, went into a windup and delivered a thunderous dunk near the end of the third quarter.
Keyon Dooling stepped behind the three-point arc, letting fly a sweet jump shot that snapped the net in the second.
Michael Olowokandi lofted jump hooks over Shaquille O’Neal. Sean Rooks bumped O’Neal around the low block after Olowokandi got in foul trouble. Elton Brand pulled rebounds from out of thin air, or so it seemed.
All of that and still the Clippers lost Monday to the Lakers, 96-92. There was a great deal to like about the Clippers’ effort and still they fell for the ninth time in 12 games, still mired in last place in the Pacific Division.
The Clippers, who are 15-25, reach the midway point of the season Wednesday against the Utah Jazz at Salt Lake City, where they have lost 26 consecutive games.
It’s been suggested that their season is already history, that owner Donald T. Sterling torpedoed any chance the team had at success this season by failing to sign Olowokandi and Brand to fat new contracts last summer.
It has been said that this is an injured season for the Clippers, who have played 40 games and have yet to have their roster intact. Lamar Odom is back on the floor after an 11-month layoff because of wrist and ankle injuries, but Eric Piatkowski has been sidelined by a lower abdominal strain that has kept him out five weeks.
All the while, Coach Alvin Gentry continues to keep the faith.
At this point, that’s about all he has left.
“You’re going to be frustrated in a game like this because you had an opportunity to win,” he said. “We should feel frustrated because our margin for error is so thin. Shaq and Kobe [Bryant] are veteran guys. We’re still trying to find a way to win these kinds of games. I want everybody to understand there are no moral victories for us.”
The Clippers have been listening, and perhaps it’s finally begun to translate into improved play.
“We’re playing as a team,” said Maggette, who scored 18 points and had six rebounds in 38 minutes. “Everything is starting to come along. It just hurts when stuff doesn’t go our way. It makes me kind of angry.”
The Clippers certainly seemed headed toward their second consecutive impressive victory Monday. One game and two days after beating the Sacramento Kings, 112-107, they took an 82-77 lead over the Lakers after Olowokandi’s turnaround jump shot with 4:51 left.
Their momentum soon fizzled, the Lakers made shots and the Clippers faltered in the final seconds, capped by Odom’s errant pass to Maggette on a critical fastbreak. Maggette, after gathering the pass on the right wing, charged into Derek Fisher with the Clippers down by 94-92 and 3.1 seconds left.
According to teammates, Odom believed the Clippers needed a three-pointer, halted his drive to the basket and threw a pass that a trailing Maggette could not handle with Fisher in his path. Odom was not immediately available for comment.
It was a neat summary to a game the Clippers believed they could have taken from the Lakers, but did not. The Clippers had their moments, but the Lakers had more of them. It’s a scenario Gentry would like to see change. And soon.
“I expect to win,” Gentry said. “It’s that simple.”