The Los Angeles Clippers opened their three games in three nights road trip with double digit losses to the Pacers and the Thunder. But those losses, on the road to very good teams, weren't exactly unexpected. Certainly the way they lost -- with no sense of urgency or purpose -- was troubling, but the losses themselves were par for the course.
Thursday night the Clippers faced the New Orleans Hornets, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference and the worst home record in the entire league. Good teams are supposed to beat teams with 4-20 home records. Maybe the Clippers aren't a good team after all, as they lost 97-91.
The Clippers began the game with the sense of urgency they'd been lacking on the trip. They built a 11 point lead early in the second quarter -- and then lost their edge and allowed New Orleans to cut the lead to one.
The Clippers came out of the locker room at half time re-energized and immediately built their four point half time lead up to 13 -- and then fell asleep again and watched the lead dwindle back down to two. Entering the fourth quarter, the Clippers' advantage was a mere three points.
When the Hornets scored the first five points of the fourth quarter, they took the lead for the first time -- and never relinquished it. Undermanned though they were, playing without Eric Gordon, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry, the Hornets became active and confident when they sensed that this game could be theirs for the taking. The Hornets defense held the Clippers to 17 percent shooting in the fourth quarter -- on just 4-23. New Orleans outscored L.A. 21-11 in the fourth to seal the victory.
Rumors began flying after L.A.'s ugly loss in Oklahoma City Wednesday that coach Vinny Del Negro was on thin ice. Chris Broussard of ESPN reported Thursday that Del Negro had lost the locker room. After losing a 13 point lead in the second half against a team with four home wins, if his seat wasn't actually hot before, it surely is now.Del Negro is in the second year of a two year contract with the Clippers -- the team has an option for next season, which would seem to be a moot point now.
But will the Clippers make a move with only five weeks between now and the playoffs? If they don't turn things around soon, the playoffs may no longer be a concern, as the Clippers are now just a game ahead of ninth place Utah.
The Hornets got strong games from Chris Kaman (the former Clipper traded to New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul deal) with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Jarrett Jack added 17 points and 9 assists. Xavier Henry provided a huge lift, scoring 12 on just four shots, with all of his points coming in the second half. Jason Smith also scored 17, but was ejected in the fourth quarter for an ugly body check on Blake Griffin as Griffin drove for a layup. Smith will likely receive a suspension as a result of the play.
The Clippers were led by Griffin's 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul had 16 points and 9 assists. However, as a team the Clippers shot just 39 percent, thanks in large part to the aforementioned 4-23 fourth quarter. It was the second consecutive game that the Clippers have shot under 40 percent. Paul received mostly cheers and a smattering of boos in his first return to the city where he played his first six seasons.
With the win, the Hornets improve to 12-35 on the season. The Clippers drop to 26-21 and are now tied for sixth place in the Western Conference and sinking fast.
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