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Cassell gets year off to sweet start

Times Staff Writer

It’s only the exhibition season, which ranks somewhere slightly above a glorified scrimmage, but if Sam Cassell can bring anything like he did against Portland to the regular season, the Clippers will be more than satisfied.

Cassell playfully launched a shot from midcourt at the start of the game against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday when officials called time to fix a faulty shot clock.

Swoosh.

Just like almost all his shots in the first quarter.

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Cassell made seven of nine shots in the quarter for 16 points as he jump-shot and pump-faked to stake the Clippers to an early lead.

He sat out the second quarter before adding five more points in the third quarter of a 111-102 loss.

“Sam Cassell carried us in the first quarter,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said.

Whether Cassell, 37, and one of many players needed to pick up the scoring slack for Elton Brand, can play at a high and injury-free level throughout the season is crucial to the Clippers’ success.

Cassell, in the final year of a two-year contract extension, sat out the first Clippers exhibition at Denver on Tuesday. A series of back injuries hampered him last season and Cassell averaged 12.3 points in only 58 games.

“He’s been doing that stuff his whole career,” General Manager Elgin Baylor said of Cassell’s first-quarter performance.

Dunleavy said he saw improvement between the Clippers’ first pair of exhibition games, but the team needs work on its transition defense.

“Our second-half shot selection wasn’t good,” he said. “It gave them some opportunities in transition. They got to the open floor and got some easy transition baskets against us.”

There is a chance that Corey Maggette (bruised left thigh), Cuttino Mobley (strained left calf) and Chris Kaman (tweaked lower back) will all be ready to play the next exhibition, at Golden State on Sunday.

“It’s tough,” Al Thornton said. “We are banged up. We just look at film, look at our mistakes and try to get better and fix those mistakes.”

Outside the Rose Garden, home of the Trail Blazers, the team pinned a gigantic Greg Oden No. 1 jersey to the side of the arena viewable from most of downtown.

Oden, the NBA’s top draft pick who turned pro after playing one season at Ohio State, is expected to be out for the season because of an injured right knee.

The Clippers waived center Marcus Douthit on Thursday, trimming the roster to 18 players. Douthit did not play in either exhibition game.

jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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