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NO.5 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Brent Barry wasn't the first talented player with hot-dog
tendencies to have a conflict with his coach, and Bill Fitch
wasn't the first old-school coach to butt heads with a flashy
young star. To most observers of the Clippers, that's exactly
what was happening between Barry and Fitch last season, but as
Los Angeles tries to (warning: The following is a phrase not
often used in stories about the Clippers) return to the
playoffs, Fitch and Barry are trying to get off to a good start
by insisting not only that they are getting along famously but
also that no conflict existed last season. "I think it got to a
point where the media was searching for something to jump on,
and they started writing about Coach and me having this big
fight," Barry says. "I think we had a lot of fun with it. Both
of us laughed it off."

After a promising rookie season in which he started 44 games and
won the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend, Barry, a 6'6"
shooting guard, didn't start a game last year. Fitch reduced his
playing time from 24.0 minutes to 18.5 per game, and Barry's
scoring average fell from 10.1 points to 7.5. "People who were
outside the team were upset that I wasn't playing," he says.
Some of those people were at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena last
March for a game against the Trail Blazers. When the Clippers
fell behind by 25 points, many of the fans began chanting for
Fitch to put Barry in the game, but Fitch ignored them, walking
past Barry to insert Rodney Rogers and Lamond Murray instead. To
hear Barry tell it, that kind of move didn't upset him at all.
"This year, after summer league was over, Coach and I sat down
and had a real long meeting," he says. "We're both on the same
page."

Why was a long meeting necessary if they never had any problems
with each other? Fitch has a succinct answer. "Don't start
that," he says. "I never had any problems with Barry."

Maybe Fitch and Barry are just in a forgiving mood. After all,
the Clippers did reach the playoffs last season for only the
third time in their 13 years in Los Angeles, losing to the Jazz
in the first round, and this season Barry is set to be L.A.'s
starting shooting guard. The Clippers didn't re-sign Malik
Sealy, who started 79 games at the position last year. Barry's
expanded playing time should at least make Clippers fans happy.
Though power forward Loy Vaught has had one first-rate season
after another, Barry, with his gallery of highlight-film dunks
and passes, is clearly the crowd favorite.

Barry will get help in the backcourt from point guard Darrick
Martin and free-agent addition James Robinson, a good defender
who can play both guard spots. Up front, forwards Vaught and
Rogers are solid, but the Clippers will miss forward Bo Outlaw,
a hard-nosed defender and rebounder who signed with the Magic as
a free agent. Fitch hopes that first-round draft choice Maurice
Taylor, a forward from Michigan, will help compensate for
Outlaw's absence, but the biggest question mark for L.A. is at
center. Stojko Vrankovic, a 7'2" bust with the Timberwolves last
year, came to the Clippers in a trade for Stanley Roberts. He
will compete with 7'3" Keith Closs, whom Los Angeles for some
reason felt compelled to sign to a five-year deal that will pay
him $8.5 million even though he wasn't drafted and he played
with the Norwich Neptunes of the Atlantic Basketball Association
last season. If Vrankovic or Closs can handle things at center,
second-year forward Lorenzen Wright will be free to spend more
time at his natural position, power forward.

The Clippers' 1997-98 record should be close to last year's
36-46, but that probably won't be good enough to get them the
eighth and final playoff spot in the West as it did last season,
not with the Spurs, injury riddled in '96-97, back at full
strength. But maybe Barry, who will be a free agent after this
year, will stay with L.A. even if it becomes a lottery team
again. After all, he and Fitch have always had a close personal
relationship. --P.T.

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER BARRY SHOULD GET TO THE RIM MORE OFTEN NOW THAT HE AND FITCH SAY THEY SEE EYE TO EYE [Brent Barry and opposing player in game]

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER [Loy Vaught]

BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 36-46 (fifth in Pacific)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points Rebounds Turnovers
per game FG pct. per game per game
(rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

Clippers 97.2 (15) .446 (19) 40.7 (16) 16.0 (18)
Opponents 99.5 (22) .462 (19) 42.7 (22) 16.7 (3)

SHARPSHOOTER

Loy Vaught has made at least half of his field goal attempts in
each of the last five seasons. Only six other players have had a
field goal percentage of .500 or better in each of those years
(minimum 500 field goal attempts each season). The NBA record
for most consecutive seasons shooting 50% or better is 19, by
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

LONGEST CURRENT STREAKS OF SEASONS SHOOTING .500 OR BETTER

CONSECUTIVE CAREER SCORING
PLAYER, TEAM(S) .500-PLUS SEASONS CAREER FG% AVG.

Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets 13 .516 24.2

Otis Thorpe, Kings-Rockets-
Trail Blazers-Pistons-Grizzlies 11 .552 15.4

Horace Grant, Bulls-Magic 10 .530 12.7

Dale Davis, Pacers 5 .550 9.7

Alonzo Mourning, Hornets-Heat 5 .519 21.4

Shaquille O'Neal, Magic-Lakers 5 .577 27.0

Loy Vaught, Clippers 5 .512 11.9

NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Don't be surprised if forward Loy Vaught (right), who has never
missed more than nine games in any of his seven years with the
Clippers, sits out a few more than that in 1997-98. Vaught is in
the final year of his contract, and there are suspicions that he
will be so concerned with maintaining his health that he'll be
reluctant to play with minor injuries that could be aggravated
and lower his value on the free-agent market.

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1996-97 STATS
Coach: Bill Fitch (fourth season with Los Angeles)

STARTERS G PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT% 3FG%

PG Darrick Martin 82 10.9 1.4 4.1 0.70 0.02 .407 .872 .389
SG Brent Barry 59 7.5 1.9 2.6 0.86 0.25 .409 .817 .324
SF Rodney Rogers 81 13.2 5.1 2.7 1.09 0.75 .462 .663 .361
PF Loy Vaught 82 14.9 10.0 1.3 1.04 0.30 .500 .702 .167
C Stojko Vrankovic[*]53 3.4 3.2 0.3 0.19 1.26 .561 .676 0 att.

RESERVES

F Lamond Murray 74 7.4 3.1 0.8 0.72 0.39 .416 .739 .341
F Maurice Taylor (R)[*]35 12.3 6.2 1.1 0.74 0.89 .507 .718 .200
G James Robinson[*]69 8.3 1.6 1.8 0.43 0.12 .407 .684 .382
G-F Eric Piatkowski 65 6.0 1.6 0.8 0.51 0.15 .450 .821 .425
C-F Lorenzen Wright 77 7.3 6.1 0.6 0.62 0.78 .481 .587 .250

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college stats)