Tuesday , May , 02 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Clippers have finally arrived

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – After years of frustration and losing, the Los Angeles
Clippers have become winners. They eliminated the Denver Nuggets in five games
in the first round of the playoffs and earned their second series win in
franchise history.

The Clippers returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97
campaign, when they were swept in the opening round by the Utah Jazz, 3-0. In
fact, the Clippers, who were the Buffalo Braves until the 1978-79 campaign,
were eliminated in the opening round in 1992, 1993 and 1997.

The Braves, who became the San Diego Clippers after the 1977-78 season,
defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 2-1 in the first round of the 1975-76
playoffs for their other series victory.

“Obviously for us, it is a great day,” Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy said
after Game 5’s victory over the Nuggets. “Our guys came out focused but Denver
made a hard run at us. They fought the whole way. Fortunately for us, we kept
coming and broke it open in the second half. Our guys did a great job
defensively.”

All-Star forward Elton Brand averaged a double-double in the five games
against the Nuggets. He posted team-highs in points (17.8 ppg) and rebounds
(10.0 rpg) in the series for the Clippers.

Brand scored 21 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the decisive victory
over the Nuggets, while shooting guard Cuttino Mobley and Corey Maggette both
netted 23 for the sixth-seeded Clippers, who owned the homecourt advantage
over Denver because of a better overall record during the regular season.

“This is absolutely satisfying,” said Brand after advancing to the conference
semifinals. “It’s like vindication because we worked so hard and this
organization didn’t give up. We definitely have the confidence to go out
there, advance again and keep going. We feel we can beat every team out
there.”

Mobley, who signed with club as an unrestricted free agent during the
offseason, averaged 16.0 points per game in the opening round, while Maggette,
who missed 50 games during the regular season because of injury, was second on
the club in scoring (17.0 ppg) versus the third-seeded Nuggets, who won the
Northwest Division during the regular season.

Veteran Sam Cassell, who was acquired during last offseason in a trade with
Minnesota, did his share as well. The 36-year-old guard contributed 14.6
points and 5.4 assists per game, while sophomore guard Shaun Livingston dished
out a team-best 6.0 helpers per contest.

Not only does Cassell’s play on the court help, but his leadership and
experience have proved to be a big asset. He has played in 108 postseason
contests during his career and has won two championships as a member of the
Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995.

Cassell and the 30-year-old Mobley, who has participated in 19 playoff
contests during his career, were brought in to help the Clippers win when and
if they reached the postseason. The mission was accomplished in the first
round.

“The pressure is on Sam (Cassell) and myself,” said Mobley. “We came in to
give these guys some experience. We said, ‘Not to be afraid, take chances and
not to be scared to make some mistakes.’ Being aggressive put Denver on their
heels, which is a good thing.”

Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations Elgin Baylor got it right
when he pieced this squad together. Brand is an excellent low-post player,
while Maggette is explosive in the open court and center Chris Kaman, who
averaged 9.8 points and 7.0 boards in round one, continues to develop and
improve.

Livingston is going to keep getting better and is the future starting point
guard. By bringing in Cassell, Baylor helped the development of Livingston,
while Mobley was the right fit as he is a versatile shooting guard who also
adds valuable experience.

Defeating the Nuggets was a big step for the Clippers. It will be fun to see
what the future holds for this up-and-coming team.

LAC