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Somehow, the Clipper Curse has gotten worse

Somehow, the Clipper Curse has gotten worse
Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles past Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) during the first half of Game 4. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press)

The faithful team employees will loudly claim they don't believe it, but you know what they are thinking.

The resilient head coach is loathe to discuss it, but surely he has pondered it.

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The faithful fans will dismiss it as old news, but when they gather at Staples Center on Wednesday night for a wake disguised as a playoff game, they will be talking about little else.

After the NBA's most haunted team lost its two best players on the day its title hopes were at their highest, how can anybody continue to deny it?

The Clipper Curse lives.

The announcement Tuesday was stunning, shattering, and completely believable. In the same Monday night playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers in which Chris Paul broke his hand, Blake Griffin re-injured his leg and will miss the rest of the postseason.

Game 4 became Season Over. Paul is out indefinitely, Griffin is out for good, and it will take a J.J. Miracle or Jamal Phenomenon for the Clippers to turn this two-games-apiece tie into a series victory. And if they do somehow beat the Trail Blazers, the decimated Clippers would barely last a week in the second round even against a Golden State Warriors team playing without their own star Stephen Curry.

The Clipper Curse lives, and breathes, and blankets even the brightest of hopes with the ghostly shadows of Donald Sterling and Danny Manning and Michael Olowokandi and Benoit Benjamin.

Think about it. For a third consecutive postseason, the Clippers have gone from legitimate title contenders to pitiable puddles in a matter of hours.

"Yeah, it's not the best luck," Coach Doc Rivers said in his Tuesday news conference. "I mean, it's the worst that I've seen."

On Monday afternoon, amid news that Curry's knee injury will cause him to at least miss two weeks for the Warriors, the Clippers believed they had finally caught the break that could propel them into their first conference finals in the franchise's 46-year history.

At tipoff in Portland, they had a legitimate shot at quickly dispatching the Trail Blazers, sneaking past the depleted Warriors, competing hard with San Antonio or Oklahoma City for the conference title, and winding up in the NBA Finals.

By the final buzzer in Portland, their season was cooked.

Teams have lost their best player during the playoffs, but losing your two best players? During the same game? Seriously?

"I'm sure it's happened, I just don't know when," Rivers said. "I can tell you it didn't happen in the same game, I can tell you that for a fact."

Ah, but something like this has happened to the Clippers before. In fact, it has happened in each of previous two postseasons.

There was the collapsed 19-point lead in the third quarter of Game 6 against the Houston Rockets in the second round last season. Moments away from the conference finals, the Clippers eventually blew a three-games-to-one lead and lost the series.

Then there was two seasons ago, when they had another clear path to the conference finals by holding a seven-point lead with under 50 seconds remaining in Game 5 against Oklahoma City in a second-round series tied two games apiece. In that final minute, Paul made two turnovers and committed a terrible foul beyond the three-point line and the Thunder roared back to win the game and eventually the series.

Earlier that spring, Clippers then-owner Sterling had been banned from the NBA for life for making racial remarks. At the time, most folks thought the Clipper Curse had disappeared with him. Turns out, it morphed into a different animal, an angrier animal.

For years, the Clipper Curse had involved events that had nothing to do with the playoffs while affecting teams that were never very good. The hex was about bad trades (giving away Terry Cummings), bad draft picks (Reggie Williams, Ken Norman and Joe Wolf in one first round), and early-season injuries (Danny Manning's knee).

But since Sterling's departure, the Curse has been worse because it has cut down teams on the verge of greatness. It has stood over their prone bodies and taunted.

The Clippers finally get strong ownership, and the Curse laughs. The Clippers finally get a powerful coach, and the Curse snorts. Three great players? The Curse shrugs. Close enough to feel a title bid? The Curse yawns.

"I don't know what a jinx is," said Rivers, who can't allow himself to accept that reality. "Babe Ruth never played for us, so we didn't trade him, there's no jinx there."

No, The Clipper Curse isn't about Babe Ruth or a billy goat, it's still about Sterling, who abusively owned them for 34 years and whose stench just will not dissipate. His specter is present at many home games in the form of wife and longtime collaborator Shelly Sterling, who still has courtside seats and the legal title of "The Clippers Number One Fan."

Some believe The Curse will never leave as long as Shelly Sterling remains. Yet, remember, she is the one who facilitated the quick sale of the team to Steve Ballmer, so maybe her displacement risks a worse curse?

It appears that the Clippers are going to have to play through The Curse with one Sterling in their past, and one Sterling in their face, somehow figuring out how to squeeze through that rock and that hard place.

Right now, they're stuck, and man, does it hurt.

Twitter: @billplaschke

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