Clippers get 103-88 blitz in Denver

Times Staff Writer

Where have the Clippers gone?

The key players on their roster returned from last season, but they haven't produced similar success for the Clippers, who remained winless on the road after a 103-88 loss to the Denver Nuggets in front of 14,236 at the Pepsi Center on Sunday night.

The Clippers (6-6) shot only 36.4% from the field, again had major breakdowns on defense and continued to regress in their fourth consecutive loss, which dropped them to last place in the Pacific Division. They are 0-5 as a visiting team.

And already playing short-handed without injured center Chris Kaman, the Clippers lost point guard and leading scorer Sam Cassell in the first quarter because of a sprained left ankle.

Cassell returned briefly after halftime but played 9 1/2 minutes in the game, and he might sit out Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings in the final game of a three-game, five-day trip that hasn't gone well for a team struggling to find itself.

"It's not the same team as last year, especially with the injuries," said Elton Brand, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. "We played the majority of last season pretty healthy, and we had the subs coming in and doing what they did.

"So, yeah, it's disheartening to lose four in a row. After the success we had last year, it's hard to see us playing the way we're playing right now. But the only thing we can do is go out there and right the ship."

Cassell said he landed on the foot of Denver's Reggie Evans while making a layup in the opening quarter, aggravating an ankle injury. He came out with 4 minutes 55 seconds left to have the team training staff re-wrap his ankle, and returned with 6:19 to go in the third quarter.

The 13-year veteran, however, was clearly in pain and left for good with 2:38 remaining and the Clippers trailing, 79-65.

"It was already sprained, and then I made it worse," Cassell said. "It got stiff on me, but I had to get back on the court.

"It's getting to be the same old story with us right now, so I had to be out there. I had to try to make this train run, but we just didn't have it tonight."

The Clippers were several steps behind their up-tempo opponent from the start, trailing early and then watching as the Nuggets, who led by as many as 19 points in the second half, pulled away for good in the third quarter.

The NBA's highest-scoring team got 33 points from Carmelo Anthony -- the league's scoring leader -- and 23 from J.R. Smith in its fifth consecutive victory. The Nuggets shot 51.9% from the field and improved to 8-4.

"We made way too many mistakes early on in our coverages that gave them easy looks and easy scores," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "In the third quarter, we made some of the same mistakes again, which let them build their lead back. We just didn't play smart enough."

Sixth man Corey Maggette led the Clippers with 22 points and 12 rebounds but missed 11 of 17 shots from the field, committed five turnovers and was often out of position on defense.

"I put a lot of what happened tonight on me," Maggette said. "Five turnovers and all the other stuff was just unacceptable for me and for the team, and it kind of hurt us in the second half."

Now the Clippers face the Kings at Arco Arena, where they have lost 16 in a row. The Clippers could return to Los Angeles under .500 -- a position they didn't occupy last season.

"We're not playing well, we're in a funk, we're struggling," Maggette said. "But we can't get down on ourselves. We've got 70 games left, so we're not out of it. We just have to stay positive."




* The Clippers never got into rhythm shooting. They made only 36.4% of their attempts from the field, and shot 33.3% from beyond the three-point arc.

* Defensive lapses. The Clippers often got confused while switching on players, leading to layups and uncontested jump shots.

* Out-hustled again. The Nuggets continually beat the Clippers to loose balls on long rebounds. That's becoming a disturbing trend for the Clippers.


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