Series Is a Breakout Hit

Don't compliment the Clippers about their postseason success, because this isn't the rung they're trying to reach.

Defeating the Denver Nuggets was never in question, the Clippers said, and who could argue?

They sure seemed focused on bigger things in completing a first-round playoff series victory Monday night with a 101-83 win over Denver at Staples Center.

The Clippers, who led by as many as 25 points in the second half, defeated the Nuggets, 4-1, in the best-of-seven series, and continued their season-long assault on the team record book.

It was the franchise's first playoff series victory in 30 years. The Buffalo Braves defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 1976 Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Clippers finally have something to show for their time in California.

"This is a great feeling," said power forward Elton Brand, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds. "I might not really appreciate it until we start the second round, but it's been 30 years in the making.

"We're proud of the Clipper Nation for sticking in there with us after all these years. … We're trying to start our own tradition and win some more playoff series."

Even owner Donald T. Sterling, who rarely grants interviews, got caught up in the moment between congratulatory handshakes outside the packed Clipper locker room.

"We've come a long way," Sterling said. "And we have a long way to go."

He would know. The franchise moved to the Southland before the 1978-79 season, and it took four playoff appearances for the Clippers to join the Braves in the win column. The Clippers had the longest drought in league history between winning playoff series.

The Washington Wizards once went 23 seasons, and the Sacramento Kings went 20.

That didn't matter Monday as the Clippers delivered a close-out victory that might have helped set the stage for another milestone moment.

The Clippers and Lakers appear on a collision course to meet in the Western Conference semifinals, and the in-house showdown would be set if the Lakers end the Phoenix Suns' season tonight in Phoenix.

The Lakers lead, 3-1, in that best-of-seven first-round series, and the Clippers will be watching TV tonight.

"We respect them, and we know that they respect us," point guard Sam Cassell said. "We handled our business, hopefully they'll handle their business, and then we can just get it on. No holds barred, baby, let's go."

The Clippers tuned up against Denver.

Coach Mike Dunleavy had all the answers for the Nuggets, designing defensive schemes that contained star forward Carmelo Anthony.

On Monday, Anthony scored 23 points, but missed 16 of 24 shots. He shot 33.3% for the series, and the Nuggets weren't much better, shooting 38% as a team for the five games.

With their No. 1 option neutralized, the Nuggets weren't up to the task against the balanced Clippers.

"You've got to take your hat off to the Clippers," Anthony said. "Dunleavy threw everything he could to try to stop me, and to try to stop us from getting in rhythm, and they succeeded at that."

The Clippers also continued to thrive on offense.

Swingman Cuttino Mobley had 23 points and center Chris Kaman and Cassell had 10 apiece. And sixth man Corey Maggette and backup point guard Shaun Livingston capped a strong series for the Clipper reserves, who outplayed their Nugget counterparts.

Maggette had 23 points and Livingston, who appears to be growing quickly with the stakes rising, had eight points and set a franchise playoff record with 14 assists.

"I'm just not really letting the intensity level affect me," Livingston said. "Obviously, it's a playoff atmosphere, and I'm new to the game, but I'm just coming in, knowing I belong out there."

And the Clippers said they're where they belong.

"This is definitely why I came here," said Mobley, who singed as a free agent in the off-season. "When I signed, a lot of guys [around the league] had little jokes and things like that. They said our season would end in January. It's May, and the Clippers are still playing, baby. How about that?"



Blast from the past

The Clippers, formerly the Buffalo Braves, won their first playoff series Monday since the 1975-76 Braves. A look back at that team:


•  Record: 46-36; Finished second in the NBA's Atlantic Division.

•  Coach: Jack Ramsay.

•  Key players: Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Jim McMillian, Ken Charles.

•  Playoffs: The only series win in franchise history took place when Buffalo defeated Philadelphia, 2-1, in the first round.

•  The next round: The Braves were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, 4-2.