Clippers make tonight the night with victory

Times Staff Writer

Sure, now they play hard.

An uninspired performance in their previous game might have cost the Clippers a playoff berth, but they gave it their all Tuesday night in a 103-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns in front of a sellout crowd of 18,422 at US Airways Center.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Apr. 19, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 19, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
NBA: In Wednesday’s Sports section, a chart on the Western Conference playoff race showed the Clippers as being 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers and Golden State. The Clippers were one game behind.

The Clippers (40-41) returned to work motivated after their embarrassing effort in Sunday’s 105-100 loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.

They hustled from the outset and maintained intensity throughout the victory over the team with the NBA’s second-best record, remaining in contention for the Western Conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, albeit barely.


The hot Golden State Warriors (41-40) routed the Dallas Mavericks -- who held out several key players -- and maintained a one-game lead over the Clippers with only one game left. The Clippers face the New Orleans Hornets (38-43) tonight at Staples Center, and Golden State concludes its schedule against the Trail Blazers (32-49) at Portland.

If the Warriors, who have won four in a row and eight of nine, win tonight, the Clippers’ vacation begins Thursday.

If the teams finish tied, the Clippers would advance because they have a better record in the Pacific Division.

Elton Brand again led the way with 21 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers, who had six players in double figures. Jason Hart (16 points) made four free throws in the final 7.8 seconds to seal the victory. Boris Diaw had 22 points for Phoenix (61-21).


After Tuesday’s victory, however, the Clippers seemed resigned to turning off the lights soon because of Sunday’s confounding outing.

“We had an opportunity and we let it slip away,” said Corey Maggette, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds. “Golden State ... they did what they had to do. They saw the teams in front of them, they came out to play every night, so you just have to tip your caps to them on that.

“Yeah, we’re going to play hard [against the Hornets] and hope for the best, but we’re just going to have to shoot for next year. Can we still get into the playoffs? Yeah, we can. Realistically, will we? No.”

Chris Kaman agreed.


“Is Golden State going to lose? More than likely, they’re not,” said Kaman, who contributed nine points and five rebounds off the bench. “But there’s really nothing we can do about it now.

“What happened is over. We just have to prepare ourselves for [tonight] and then it’s all about next year.”

Regardless of Golden State’s performance, the Clippers would have clinched the conference’s eighth seeding with victories in their final three games.

But the Clippers seemed to sleepwalk through the first half against Sacramento -- they trailed by 23 points in the second quarter and 24 early in the third -- so tonight’s final regular-season game at Staples could be meaningless.


That’s frustrating for Coach Mike Dunleavy.

“No question,” he said. “The only game that we have probably had, in the last 17, that mentally we didn’t have it, or there was something missing in the game, was Sunday against Sacramento. Every other game had been just like this tonight ... Houston, San Antonio, whoever. The only team that beat us [decisively] was Dallas in Dallas.

“Every other game came down to a last possession where our guys played their hearts out. And most of the results were really good for us. That’s why it was disappointing. I was just so shocked about Sunday. I didn’t know where that came from, I didn’t think our guys had that in them, but I felt good about coming in here tonight. I just felt like our guys would do the job.”



The playoff positions in the Western Conference:

*--* W L GB 6. Denver 44 37 22 7. Lakers 41 40 25 Golden State 41 40 25 9. Clippers 40 41 26 1/2