LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Pat Riley's new zone defense still needs some
work, because the Los Angeles Clippers were able to solve it.
Elton Brand had 25 points and 13 rebounds and Eric Piatkowski added 18 points with his zone-busting outside shooting as the Clippers completed their second straight season sweep of the Miami Heat with a 89-80 victory Wednesday night.
"We're working on it,'' forward Eddie Jones said. "It's not
like we were in training camp, trying to learn how to play this. It
worked for us the other night, and we tried to make it work for us
tonight. But we've got to get better at it.''
The Clippers, who recorded a 19-point victory on Nov. 12 at
Miami, never trailed as they won for only the 16th time in 75 games
against Riley-coached teams.
But all those losses were never against a zone defense. Riley
employed it for the first time in the later stages of Monday's
overtime victory at Phoenix.
"The zone just slows you down because it takes up room in there,'' Clippers reserve center Sean Rooks said. "It's an adjustment, just because we have to know how to move in the zone. But our guys did a good job. Marko Jaric hit some big shots, and Elton kept pounding.''
After trailing by as many as 18 points with 7½ minutes
remaining, Miami used a 9-0 run to slash the Clippers' lead to
79-70 with 3:48 to play.
Clippers coach Alvin Gentry, who already has watched his team
blow leads of 17 points to Houston, 16 to Denver and 15 to Seattle,
again had to sweat it out down the stretch. But Quentin
Richardson's layup and Brand's slam dunk in the final two minutes
helped seal the win.
"Even though we lost those big leads in the past, I felt
confident tonight,'' Brand said. "I didn't put my head down or
anything, and that's the way we have to be. We can't be tight when
we're out there. We have to be loose, and that's something coach
has tried to instill in us.''
Brand, the only player to start every game for the Clippers
during this injury-plagued season, powered them to a 49-37 halftime
lead with 13 points and seven rebounds. Los Angeles opened the game
with a 17-4 run as Miami missed nine of its first 10 shots and had
"We started the game in an absolute sleepwalk,'' Riley said.
"We did not attack, we made mistakes, everybody who caught the
ball fumbled it. It just was not a good start, and that sort of set the tone.
"They outfought us, outhustled us, and that was the name of
this game. The starters were just horrible. They were not in sync
and not ready as a group. It was obvious.''
Wang Zhizhi, the Clippers' 7-foot-1 backup center from China, was in the game for only 25 seconds when rookie Caron Butler slam-dunked over him on a fast break to trim the Clippers' lead to 38-31 with 3:54 left in the second quarter.
Miami got as close as three points on jumpers by Allen and Travis Best, but Piatkowski responded with a pair of 3-pointers as Los Angeles closed the half with an 11-2 run.
"When a guy makes a couple of shots like that, it makes you
come out of the zone because you're always looking for him,'' Jones
said. "So now the middle is wide open and it hurts the cohesiveness of the zone.''
The Clippers were on cruise control during the second half,
using a 10-2 run at the end of the third quarter to build a 73-55
"It was a quality win -- but right now, any win is a quality win,'' Brand said.
The Clippers have beaten Miami four straight times after losing the previous nine meetings. The Heat became the seventh franchise the Clippers have swept consecutive season series
against, joining Minnesota, Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee, Chicago and
Cleveland. ... The Clippers' next loss will be Gentry's 200th as an
NBA head coach. Riley, who replaced Gentry in Miami following the
1994-95 season, had only 194 regular-season defeats in his nine
seasons as Los Angeles Lakers coach. ... F Lamar Odom, expected to
be activated around Christmas, practiced with the team Tuesday for
the first time since reinjuring the ankle he sprained last Feb. 14
-- while recuperating from a sprained right wrist.
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