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Clippers Look Ready to Rock Lakers’ Boat

You wouldn’t say ships passed in the night Wednesday when the Clippers smashed the Lakers, because Kobe Bryant didn’t play.

However, both ships now sail the same ocean. It’s a comedown for the Lakers, who ruled the seven seas, but nice for the Clippers after all those years sailing a bar of soap around their bathtub.

Bryant’s presence has kept the Lakers ahead, but the Clippers are the big, physical ones with salary-cap room this summer.

The Lakers are the ones who need a big man and a fastbreak point guard and have cap room in the summer of 2007.

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The Clipper backcourt has basically missed the season, but they’re still coming as Chris Kaman starts to happen. With Elton Brand, Chris Wilcox, Mikki Moore, Zeljko Rebraca, Corey Maggette and Bobby Simmons, they’re one of the league’s most physical teams, if not numero uno.

They were playing volleyball with the Lakers. Sometimes Kaman shot and Brand rebounded his misses. For variety, Brand shot and Kaman rebounded his misses.

The Clippers outrebound opponents by 2.4 a game, fifth best in the league. This month with Kaman entering the picture, they’re at a scary 6.8.

Coach Mike Dunleavy says Kaman can be “a poor man’s Tim Duncan,” which is some jump. Coming off his preseason injury, Kaman was more like a poor man’s Rasho Nesterovic, throwing the ball out as soon as he got it or faking three times before putting it up.

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“I told him he was playing like a backup center,” Dunleavy says. “I said, ‘If that’s how you see yourself, that’s fine. We trust you. Go up and jam it.’ ”

They’re still a longshot for the playoffs. Their schedule gets harder and they not only have to climb over the Lakers, but either the Timberwolves, Rockets or Grizzlies too. All three are driving again after bad stretches.

However, the Clippers are a work in progress. Now they have to see if they can get Shaun Livingston ready to start and, assuming they can, see who they can get to play alongside him this summer.

Oh, keeping this together would be nice too, after all the debacles that preceded it.

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The Lakers aren’t that far along. They were hoping to rise from the ashes and win 50 games with an exciting, running team, but that was a tad optimistic. They don’t run and won’t win 50.

Bryant’s injury was supposed to give Lamar Odom a chance to take over, but since Kobe left, Chucky Atkins has been their leading scorer at 19 a game. Odom (17.5) isn’t even that far ahead of Caron Butler (15.5) for the No. 2 spot.

There’s a problem of styles with Odom and Bryant, because both need the ball, and it’s hard just to get Lamar to be all he can be.

Lacking a great player’s confidence, Odom worries that he’s not respected and doesn’t need much to go wrong to decide this isn’t his night.

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Last season the Heat ran its offense through him and he had his best season. Now he’s not the designated No. 1 option and there are nights when he misses shots or gets a foul he doesn’t think he committed (a lot of them, because he thinks referees really disrespect him). The next thing you know, you’ve got

Casper the Ghost at power forward.

Except for the Laker team, it’s like old times. The arena still fills up out of hope, habit or because fans are protecting their seat locations and may as well use the tickets. John Ireland still goes live with Rudy Tomjanovich’s pregame comments, as he did with Phil Jackson’s.

Of course, with those Lakers, there was always something going on, and if not, Phil would start something.

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The Lakers not only aren’t what they were, they may not even be as good as they seem. So far the schedule has been favorable, but 24 of the last 38 are on the road.

For local fans, not to mention Bryant, it might have been better if Kobe had gone to the Clippers. Of course, that would have been a cruel blow for the Lakers and would have meant counting on you-know-whom.

On the other hand, it would still be rocking around here, just on the other side of the tracks.

Faces and Figures

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That was fast: Detroit brass is upset that Coach Larry Brown embraced speculation about going to the Knicks, noting he’s a New York native, just built a house in the Hamptons and is close to Isiah Thomas. Meanwhile, Brown was whipping his present team, criticizing the Pistons’ effort in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. Said Ben Wallace: “I’m sick of that [stuff]. I’ve got no comment on that, but I’m tired of hearing that [stuff] every night. Maybe somebody might try saving our legs once in a while.” Bottom line: Everyone knew Brown wouldn’t be there long, including Joe Dumars, who hired him because they were firing Rick Carlisle, and he had to find someone fast, and Brown was leaving Philadelphia and needed somewhere to go. Brown rocked their world by winning a title, but they’re ready to get back to what they were doing -- rebuilding -- which means playing Darko Milicic.... Meanwhile, the Knicks are desperate, Brown might make it work and is great with the press. In other words, it’s a lock.

Oh, I give up: New Jersey’s Jason Kidd, who just announced he wouldn’t ask to be traded this season, said he’d love to return to his native Oakland to play for the Warriors. “I would love that challenge,” he told the Oakland Tribune. “That would be great.... Athletes always think, at some point in their career, about playing where it all started. I can’t say, but it’s been talked about. I don’t think we would turn it down, if that opportunity ever came about.” In other words, Kidd may ask to be traded after this season. The Nets may have to take what they can get, because he’s 32 and makes $15 million a year, and the Lakers may be able to get into it, as they’ve been his preferred option all along.

Next coach: Michael Cooper’s audition as Nuggets’ head coach lasted 14 games, of which he lost 10. He was supposed to be the players’ coach they (read: Carmelo Anthony) wanted after Jeff Bzdelik, but he made some key mistakes, like forgetting to put Andre Miller in at the end of a close game and then admitting it to the press. Worse, Anthony averaged only 17.8 points for Cooper and shot 35%.... And the winner is: George Karl, the new Nugget coach, who was critical of Cooper as an ESPN.com analyst. Karl was great in Seattle and ineffectual in Milwaukee. Now to which George shows up here.

Seattle’s upcoming free agent, Ray Allen, would say he’d play on the moon if anyone asked, but now says his situation is a distraction. “Having to deal with that all season long opens the door to being frustrated and it brings that stuff into the locker room,” he said. “Danny [Fortson] asked me the other day what I wanted to do. I know what I want to do. I want to be here, but that’s not happening so it affects the team. It brings that element into the locker room. The guys in here are asking, ‘What is Ray going to do?’ ” You would think the SuperSonics have to re-sign Allen, but now it’s getting into the press and may get personal, so stay tuned.... No, Allen will not be a Laker, even if he says he’d love to. They’re $35 million over the cap, which kind of puts them out of the free-agent market. On the other hand, the Clippers need a shooting guard, will be $10 million under the cap and can create more room if they need it.

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Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy on meeting Bill Clinton: “He said, ‘We should get together some time and talk about leadership.’ I said, ‘That would be great.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I got to go to Asia for an economic summit. Then I got to go to the Middle East.’ I was thinking, ‘I got TNT Thursday.’ This guy is talking about real things. I’m talking about the Pistons.”.... Maybe it’s just a coincidence: After the Knicks’ Stephon Marbury announced, “I know I’m the best point guard in the NBA,” they went 1-11.


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