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Road Is Tough on Clippers

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers reached the halfway point in their season, neither among the best in the West, nor as far removed as many had predicted.

They’re 18-23 after Saturday night’s 102-97 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in front of 15,741 in Key Arena, 5 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference.

They began a three-week stretch of almost nothing but road games by crumbling over the last 20 minutes, a five-point lead turning into an 11-point deficit before they finally made a few meaningless three-point baskets at the end.

Ray Allen torched them for 41 points. They’re 4-12 outside Staples Center, where they’ll play nine of their next 10 games before the All-Star break and four of their first five afterward. They’ve won two of 13 road games since Nov. 14.

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“We’re not even going to get into that,” Elton Brand said of the Clippers’ season-long struggles away from home. “We played well in stretches.... I’m not even going to get our team into the mind-set that we have a problem on the road.”

The SuperSonics, who played their eighth consecutive game against an opponent with a losing record after losing five of the previous seven, made 11 of 25 three-point shots. Among them were three in a row -- by Allen, Brent Barry and Rashard Lewis -- during an 11-0 third-quarter run that took them from a 60-55 deficit to a 66-60 lead. They never trailed again.

“That really broke our back,” Brand said of the sequence.

Said Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy: “We didn’t do a good job of defending them on the perimeter. We didn’t do a good enough job of talking, we didn’t do a good enough job of staying disciplined in what we were supposed to be doing on certain plays, and they made us pay the price.”

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In the seventh 40-point game of his career, Allen scored at least seven points in every quarter, 15 in the fourth, and made 14 of 23 shots, a season-high six in 10 attempts from beyond the three-point arc.

“He was on fire,” Brand said.

The Clippers, meanwhile, made only one of 16 three-point shots before the last two minutes, enabling the SuperSonics to double- and triple-team Brand, who had burned them for 14 points in the first quarter and 20 in the first half.

Brand finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds but got only three shots in the second half, making one. Corey Maggette scored 28, misfiring on his first seven three-point shots before making two in the last six seconds. Quentin Richardson scored 22 points, but missed 15 of 22 shots, six of nine from beyond the arc.

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Last season at this point, the Clippers were 16-25. They’ve reached the season’s midpoint with a winning record once in 20 years in Los Angeles.

“I’m never satisfied unless we’re over .500,” Dunleavy said. “I know, in a sense, that’s stretching it for this team, but had we had a good week at home [two weeks ago, when they lost three of four] we would be.

“I feel decent, I feel good about who we are and where we’re going. I think we’re getting better. I think we’re on the rise. But it’s still too many losses for me. You’ve got to get to where you can play .500 or better. That’s a big step in this league for young teams.”

It was the SuperSonics who sent them off on the wrong foot this season, twice defeating the Clippers in less than 48 hours three months ago at Saitama, Japan. Neither game was close, the SuperSonics winning, 109-100 and 124-105.

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“Unfortunately, I remember it all too well,” Dunleavy said of the season-opening trip in late October. “I’d summarize it as horrible.”

Brand didn’t play in the second game because of a broken right foot, but Allen, a three-time All-Star, sat out both games for the SuperSonics. In the second game, Lewis scored a career-high 50 points on 18-of-25 shooting.

This time, Lewis scored 15.

Allen’s hot shooting more than made up the difference.

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“Ray had a great game, particularly in the fourth quarter with Matt Barnes on him,” Dunleavy said. “Matt did a great job of defending him as best you can defend him, a hand in his face and fully extended. Ray just was able to make shots.”


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