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Maggette, Thornton can go big or small

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Times Staff Writer

At long last, the Clippers are posed with one of those problems a team wants to have.

Exhibit A: Corey Maggette, athletic, long and an explosive finisher near the basket.

Exhibit B: Al Thornton, athletic, long and an explosive finisher near the basket (Disclaimer: He must adjust to the NBA level of play during his rookie season).

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The issue is how Coach Mike Dunleavy will manage a group that includes the two, both of whom are naturally small forwards.

“We’ve already used it some in the preseason,” Dunleavy said of playing Maggette and Thornton at the same time. “It’s certainly possible.”

Dunleavy said he could used Maggette, 6 feet 6 and 225 pounds, as shooting guard and Thornton, 6-8 and 220, as small forward in a big lineup.

Or he could shuffle each down a position in a smaller lineup, putting Maggette at the small forward and Thornton as the power forward.

But having both on the court at the same time could leave the team prone to defensive difficulties. The team envisions Thornton eventually becoming a standout defender, but he is still learning the league’s nuances on that side of the ball.

“I’m trying to get to a point where I know the three [small forward] and the four [power forward] as well,” Thornton said. “I can play both spots, but I’m having a little trouble with the four.

“I’ve got the three down, but sometimes, you can get the plays mixed up. I’ve got to be able to differentiate between them.”

Center Chris Kaman said his sore lower back, which kept him out of the team’s first two exhibition games, held up fine after playing 24 minutes against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, although he did admit to being rusty. He turned the ball over five times and made one of seven shots.

“It felt good, really good,” Kaman said. “I thought defensively, I played pretty well, but on offense I turned the ball over a little too much.”

Dunleavy said Kaman can expect to play about the same number of minutes tonight against Phoenix in the team’s first home exhibition game.

It will be the team’s biggest test to date, Dunleavy said.

“It’ll test us where we are defensively,” he said. “How much our guys have picked up and give us a little better indication of where we are. I still think based on where we are in practice, we still have a ways to go.”

Ruben Patterson (flu-like symptoms) sat out Wednesday’s practice, as did Sam Cassell to rest. Cuttino Mobley (strained left calf) participated in most of the practice and may return to game action over the weekend. . . . Fans planning to attend tonight’s game should arrive early because of increased traffic expected from the opening of the Nokia Theatre across the street from Staples Center.

jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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