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Dunleavy, Sterling meet as Brand practices

Times Staff Writer

In a Clippers season where topsy-turvy is status quo, two steps toward progression in a single day is a milestone.

Yet that was their Tuesday with owner Donald T. Sterling and Coach Mike Dunleavy speaking with one another to break an impasse and forward Elton Brand practicing with his teammates for the first time since rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in August.

Mired in a six-game losing streak capped with a blowout home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, both were welcomed advances for the team.

The mea culpa between Sterling and Dunleavy took place in Beverly Hills at the owner’s office Tuesday evening. Team President Andy Roeser also attended.

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“Basically, before all this stuff happened, I thought we had a great relationship and everything was going in the right direction,” Dunleavy said. “You lose and everybody gets frustrated and things are said and everybody gets tense and heated up.

“We sat down and talked about things and I think things are going back to the way it was.”

Said Roeser: “He’s our coach. We are behind him 100% and there is no doubt we will do whatever we can to all work together to improve the team.”

Sterling was unavailable for comment.

It was their first conversation since Sterling criticized his team in late January. Most of it was aimed at Dunleavy and Elgin Baylor, vice president of basketball operations.

Dunleavy responded the next day, saying Sterling could fire him if he wanted and he had been hamstrung in making personnel decisions.

That week, Dunleavy said the pair had spoken to clear the air, but it was later revealed that he had spoken only to Roeser. The coach subsequently tried to call Sterling, but never made it past his secretary.

Dunleavy said he did not ask Sterling why the owner did not return his calls.

Earlier Tuesday, Dunleavy termed Brand as rusty, a description the forward also used in his return to the court.

After practicing halfcourt five-on-five drills with contact, Brand jokingly said he needed to buy WD-40.

In the session, he set screens, flared to the baseline for jumpers and hauled in rebounds.

“Obviously, he’s taking it slow,” said forward Aaron Williams, who matched up against Brand. “You’ve got to crawl before you walk. He did good out there, but he’s still not at 100%.”

Brand said he hopes to go through a full practice within the next week before possibly making his season debut near the end of a five-game trip that starts Monday.

“Hopefully around that long road trip or shortly thereafter,” he said.

Dunleavy stressed that Brand is in his beginning stages.

“We don’t want to put him out there until he’s ready to be out there,” Dunleavy said. “It’s one of those things where we shouldn’t rush him back. I want to see him dominating practice like he has in the past before I throw him into a game because it’s not fair to him or anyone else in that regard.”

Brand said he is determined to return even though the Clippers are well out of the playoff hunt.

“I love to play,” he said. “It’s an honor to play in the NBA and if I’m healthy, I’m going to play. That’s my job.”

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TONIGHT

vs. Sacramento, 7:30 PST

FSN Prime Ticket

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 710.

Records -- Clippers 19-39, Kings 27-33.

Record vs. Kings -- 2-0.

Update -- Chris Kaman, who returned from a sore lower back two games ago, is on restricted minutes. Although Dunleavy said Kaman is limited to 25 minutes, he is averaging 30 minutes since returning.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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