Rookie Thornton won’t get down over benching

Times Staff Writer

Last week, Clippers forward Al Thornton received his first career start. This week, he received his first benching.

Such is the roller-coaster ride of an NBA rookie trying to find his way.

Thornton, who sat out Monday’s loss to the Houston Rockets, said he was keeping his head up.


He is averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.6 minutes through 11 games. Thornton is shooting 31.4% overall and 35.3% from beyond the three-point arc.

“It’s a long season,” said Thornton, the team’s first-round draft pick from Florida State. “I know I didn’t play at all [Monday], but the worst thing I can do is get down.

“I’m just trying to keep a level head and look forward to the next game.”

Coach Mike Dunleavy said the decision came down to matchups. Forward Corey Maggette played efficiently in scoring 21 points and Ruben Patterson was needed to guard Tracy McGrady.

“The way we played it, Corey came back and we were getting a good game out of him and then times where that’s going on, I use [Thornton] at the power forward slot some and the opportunity just didn’t present itself,” Dunleavy said. “We stayed with the veteran guys.”

Dunleavy added that not too much should be read into the decision, saying Thornton had a good practice Wednesday and would play at Denver against the Nuggets on Friday.

“I talked to him this morning about the next game and to be ready because it wasn’t anything he did,” Dunleavy said.

Point guard Sam Cassell, 38, said he won’t travel with the team to Denver, but is aiming to play Sunday when the Clippers play host to the Indiana Pacers.

Cassell left in the first quarter against the Rockets after straining his left calf.

He said he felt it while trying to deny Rafer Alston the ball along the baseline. “It was something light,” Cassell said. “It was nothing drastic that I did. It happens.

“We’ve just got to continue to play. We’ve eventually got to get healthy one of these days. When is that going to come? Who knows?”

Patterson, sitting on a bench after practice, only shook his head.

“I’ve never seen so many guys hurt,” he said.

The Clippers’ new practice facility in Playa Vista is quickly taking shape with a projected opening sometime in the spring.

The 42,500 square-foot building will include a state-of-the art digital video room and will house the team’s basketball operations. When completed, the total cost will be about $50 million.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was the absolute best thing to do for the team,” said Andy Roeser, team president.

Cassell, Cuttino Mobley (strained right groin) and Tim Thomas (sore lower back) did not practice.