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Original Issue

8 Los Angeles Clippers It might look like a college team, but this erstwhile laughingstock is finally starting to play like a pro power

Last April 16 even the Clippers' die-hard supporters had to rub
their eyes and pinch themselves. In its final home game, Los
Angeles waxed the playoff-bound Suns 100-80 to finish a run of 10
victories in its final 11 home games. A Staples Center crowd of
19,347, the Clippers' 11th sellout of the season, spent most the
fourth quarter performing the wave and then topped off the
evening with a protracted standing ovation. After the final
buzzer fans stormed the court, and forwards Lamar Odom and Darius
Miles danced on the press table. Sure the win was only L.A.'s
31st against 50 defeats, and yes, the Clippers were 25 games out
of first place, but it marked a dramatic improvement from their
15-67 record in 1999-2000 and showed that the franchise had
something it had rarely been thought to possess before: a future.

Los Angeles fans grew even more rapturous on draft day when the
Clippers acquired power forward Elton Brand, a reliable
20-point-10-rebound player, in exchange for 18-year-old Tyson
Chandler, the second pick. It was less a trade than a heist, and
it enabled Los Angeles to fill its most obvious need--a rugged
rebounder. Before long the Clips had increased their
season-ticket sales to roughly 12,000, the most since they moved
from San Diego to L.A. 17 years ago. When, a few days later, Odom
boldly predicted that the Clippers would make the playoffs this
season, few questioned his sanity. "Let the good times roll," he
says. "Let 'em roll."

Come again? Clippers? Good times? Isn't this the team that's
synonymous with sustained futility, the laughingstock franchise
that a certain esteemed weekly magazine dismissed not long ago as
the worst organization in professional sports? Isn't this the
club from which forward Maurice Taylor demanded his parole (his
word) after the 1999-2000 season? "Hey, times are changing," says
Miles. "Believe the hype."

The hype stems largely from a nucleus of flashy, young players
whose passion and athleticism (read: cool dunks) compensate for
lapses in concentration and sloppy fundamentals. The most callow
collection in NBA history, the Clippers are barely older than a
college team. Six players in the regular rotation--guards Quentin
Richardson, Keyon Dooling and Miles, and forwards Corey Maggette,
Odom and Brand--are between 20 and 22. Amazingly, none is a
rookie. "This is the reality of the NBA these days," says coach
Alvin Gentry. "The players are younger, and if you can't accept
it, you'll get left behind."

The baby of babies is Miles, who was the third pick in the 2000
draft. Having jumped from East St. Louis (Ill.) High to the NBA,
Miles endured some rough patches. But owing to his slashing game
and open-court skills, he averaged 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds.
After spending the summer working on his outside shot and adding
some heft to his coat-hanger 6'9", 210-pound physique, he is
aching to start his sophomore year. "I want our first game to be
today," said Miles during the first week of training camp. "Now
that we have Elton, even we don't know what we're capable of."

It falls on Gentry to play alchemist and transform this unbridled
optimism into wins. During training camp, he frequently reminded
his minions that last season they lost 10 overtime games and
squandered fourth-quarter leads in a dozen others. He also made a
habit of telling them that they weren't yet the equals of their
Staples Center cotenants. "We're not going to go from a team that
struggled to close out games," he says, "to looking like the

Maybe not. But the days of regarding the Clippers as NBA doormats
are as passe as drafting college seniors. "People that still make
jokes about the Clippers are only proving one thing," says Miles.
"That they're ignorant about basketball."


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH NO KIDDING Odom (7) and Miles, neither of them older than 22, are two big reasons the Clippers are--believe it!--talking playoffs.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Clippers

"You look at the Clippers and you see at least eight lineups
they could use. That means they have excellent bench play and a
lot of versatile players. But it also means guys are going to be
looking for minutes, so it may take a while to figure it all
out. Though this has been said before, I think they finally
might have it together if they make the off-season commitment to
pay people like Lamar Odom and Elton Brand and keep them
around....Do they play Brand and Michael Olowokandi together? I
think they'll eventually tire of Olowokandi's game, which is
predictable. And he's soft. What does it say when Erick Dampier
dominates you? I could see their going with Odom and Darius
Miles at three and four and losing patience with
Olowokandi....Brand has proved a lot of people wrong. He's real,
real good. He's not big enough to be a classic center, but he's
long. It may wear on him to play center for 40 minutes, but if
he can get some help in there, he'll be fine. They can play Sean
Rooks some at center to give Brand a blow....Brand can lead,
too, as he showed in Chicago. He and Odom could grow up
together, really get this thing going....Corey Maggette, Jeff
McInnis, Eric Piatkowski, Quentin Richardson, Derek Strong--man,
they have a lot of guys who can play....Another player who's
really going to help them is Obinna Ekezie, who has good
footwork and a nice soft touch....There's not a lot of veteran
leadership, but Alvin Gentry did a good job with these guys last
year, and maybe that's enough."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 31-51 (sixth in Pacific)
Coach: Alvin Gentry (second season with Clippers)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Lamar Odom 17.2 ppg 7.8 rpg 5.2 apg 1.61 bpg 46.0 FG%
PF Elton Brand[1] 20.1 ppg 10.1 rpg 3.2 apg 1.59 bpg 47.6 FG%
C Michael Olowokandi 8.5 ppg 6.4 rpg 1.32 bpg 43.5 FG% 54.5 3FG%
SG Eric Piatkowski 10.6 ppg 1.2 apg 3.0 rpg 43.3 FG% 40.4 3FG%
PG Jeff McInnis 12.9 ppg 5.5 apg 2.7 rpg 0.93 spg 46.3 FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

F Darius Miles 9.4 ppg 5.9 rpg 1.2 apg 1.54 bpg 50.5 FG%
G-F Corey Maggette 10.0 ppg 4.2 rpg 1.2 apg 0.51 spg 46.2 FG%
SG Quentin Richardson 8.1 ppg 3.4 rpg 0.55 spg 44.2 FG% 33.1 3FG%
G Keyon Dooling 5.9 ppg 2.3 apg 1.2 rpg 0.54 spg 40.9 FG%
C Sean Rooks 5.4 ppg 3.7 rpg 0.78 bpg 0.41 spg 42.8 FG%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

"They will eventually tire of Olowokandi's game, which is
predictable. And he's soft."