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Clippers Spin Out Again at Indy

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers hadn’t won at Indianapolis in nearly 12 years. They’d never won in four games at Conseco Fieldhouse.

But this looked as if it might be their chance.

The Indiana Pacers’ All-Star forward, Jermaine O’Neal, was on the bench in street clothes, having begged out of the game because of a knee injury. Their older All-Star forward, Reggie Miller, wasn’t making his shots.

And so the Clippers, despite being short-handed themselves and playing their second game in two nights, trailed by only four points through three quarters Wednesday.

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As it turned out, that was the high point of their night.

They missed 11 of their next 12 shots and the Pacers pulled away for a 91-78 victory in front of 14,436, continuing a decade of dominance in which they’ve won 11 in a row over the Clippers at Indianapolis and 18 of 20 overall.

“I don’t know what happened; that was crazy,” guard Quentin Richardson said. “I looked up and we were down like 10 and it just compounded. You play against great teams, you can’t afford to have letdowns at key points.”

Earlier in the day, Clipper point guard Marko Jaric returned to Los Angeles for an MRI exam on his left foot that revealed a partially torn plantar fascia, a ligament that supports the arch. He suffered the injury in the second quarter of the Clippers’ 103-95 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday, his first start this season.

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It was not immediately known how long he would be sidelined, but Coach Mike Dunleavy said the Clippers already have discussed adding a point guard via trade or free-agent signing, depending on Jaric’s availability.

With Jaric back home, Keyon Dooling returned to the starting lineup and played his best game this season, matching a career high with 18 points.

The play of Dooling and center Predrag Drobnjak, who also returned to the starting lineup and contributed 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, kept the Clippers close against the Eastern Conference leaders.

Despite subpar efforts from Richardson (10 points on three-for-15 shooting) and Corey Maggette (seven points on two-for-seven shooting), plus the absence of Jaric and injured forward Elton Brand, the Clipper deficit was only 69-65.

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Dooling, however, started the fourth quarter on the bench and by the time he returned the Pacers had increased their lead to 84-70.

“He was playing well; I wanted to give him a [rest] and then bring him back,” Dunleavy said. “We didn’t do a good job while he was out.”

Before Wednesday, the Clippers had been the NBA’s highest-scoring team, averaging 102.6 points, but the Pacers held them to a season low, the fifth time in 11 games they’ve held an opponent to fewer than 80 points.

In the fourth quarter, the Clippers made three of 16 shots.

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“They’re a battle-tested team,” Dooling said of the Pacers, who are 9-2 after winning for the eighth time in nine games. “They’ve been to the conference finals with that team. They’re a very deep team. They’re very well coached, very well disciplined. They just made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”

Al Harrington, filling in for O’Neal, led the Pacers with 22 points and had nine rebounds. On a night when Miller made only one of five shots and scored three points, Kenny Anderson and Austin Croshere each scored 13 points and Jeff Foster had 11 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.

“They got some easy scores right away and then finally we got our defense adjusted and better,” Dunleavy said, “but still nowhere near where we need it to be or what is acceptable for me.”

And not nearly well enough to end the Clippers’ winless streak at Indianapolis, which dates to Jan. 8, 1992.

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