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Clippers Dig Deep to Win

Times Staff Writer

If nothing else, the Clippers’ 91-78 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night underscored the difference between a team having a bad season and a bad team. The injury-riddled Clippers, playing without two-thirds of their starting front line, went deep into their rotation to find sparks when they needed them at Staples Center.

At one point in the fourth quarter, the Clippers had Marko Jaric and Quentin Richardson playing guard, with Tremaine Fowlkes, Cherokee Parks and Wang Zhizhi up front -- not what anyone could have envisioned when the season began with so many hopes and dreams.

And they were asked by interim Coach Dennis Johnson to put away the Nuggets with the outcome still very much in doubt. That they effectively nurtured a double-digit lead says as much about the Clippers’ depth as it does about the Nuggets’ lack of it.

The Clippers’ 22nd victory in their 68th game this season did little more than establish them as clearly superior to the 14-54 Nuggets, however. It also delighted the crowd of 15,590.

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Wang had a career-best 21 points on nine-for-12 shooting in 25 minutes, Jaric had 13 points in 24 minutes and Chris Wilcox added 10 points in 20 minutes. Juwan Howard led the Nuggets with 24 points.

“We can’t take nobody lightly,” Johnson had said before the game. “We have to play them all just like we’re playing the Lakers. Or Dallas.”

As if on cue, the Clippers struggled mightily to find the style of play that carried them to a victory Sunday over the Toronto Raptors and kept them competitive for 3 1/2 quarters before falling Monday to the Lakers.

Richardson livened up what otherwise was an unremarkable first half, throwing down a thunderous dunk in the face of Denver’s Nene Hilario late in the second quarter. Richardson broke free on the right wing and soared toward the basket, delivering his dunk as Hilario arrived too late to stop him.

The crowd roared its approval twice -- live and during a replay on the video screens above the court.

There wasn’t much else to like about the first half, although the Clippers did build a 41-34 lead on the strength of their bench play. Wang, a non-factor since joining the Clippers as a free agent during training camp, scored 11 points on five-for-seven shooting in 12 minutes.

Richardson had only one other basket apart from his highlight-reel dunk, but that one play energized the Clippers and the fans. By halftime, the Clippers had a seven-point lead and were only marginally more efficient than the Nuggets, who lost Tuesday at Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz.

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Corey Maggette sat out his second consecutive game because of a sprained left ankle. Johnson said he believed Maggette would play Saturday against the Jazz.... Melvin Ely didn’t play after coming down with flu-like symptoms. The Clippers also were without Elton Brand (stress fracture), Keyon Dooling (strained foot) and Michael Olowokandi (knee surgery).... A late-night basketball league sponsored by the Clippers and local Arco gas stations will start its 16-week season tonight at 6:30 at the Harvard Recreation Center, 1565 W. 62nd Street in Los Angeles. Johnson, Fowlkes, Andre Miller and Lamar Odom are scheduled to attend. Some 250 players between the ages of 16-24 will be involved in the league.


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