King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The search for meaning in a world where the Clippers are a good team. Plus: 3-0 leads aren't safe in the new NHL. And: Dirk isn't "soft."


Salon Staff
April 25, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

The Los Angeles Clippers pounded the Denver Nuggets 98-87 to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round NBA playoff series Monday night, and I'm just not ready for this.

I know the Clippers looked pretty good on paper before the season started. I know they opened the season winning three straight and four out of five, that they jumped out to a 14-5 record before cooling off, that they won nine of 10 starting in late January, that they set a franchise record for road wins, had their first winning season since Tom Bradley was mayor and clinched a playoff spot with seven games left to play.

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But it just never hit me how much the order of things had been upset until I watched the Clippers destroy the Nuggets Monday, leading by 20 or so for much of the game and turning Carmelo Anthony into a foul-trouble-plagued nonentity, scoreless in the first half, 16 points for the game.

Think about that for a second. Someone beat up on the Nuggets and it rocked my world. That's a whole nother issue.

I enjoy seeing an underdog do well as much as the next person. Maybe more than the next person, who, let's face it, has a little cruel streak and likes to see the little guy suffer.

But this is too much. We need the Clippers to be the Clippers, don't we? We need their essential Clipperness to lend harmony to the universe. I mean, I like when underdogs win and everything, but I don't want to see amoebas rocketing to the top of the food chain.

The barfly Norm on "Cheers" once defended his lack of ambition by saying the world needs bench warmers because without them, what would we have? "A lot of cold benches. And the world doesn't need that."

So what do we have if the Clippers aren't the Clippers? Last place up for grabs. And the world doesn't need that either. I don't mean last place in the Pacific Division, which the Golden State Warriors are happy enough to claim. I mean last place in everything. Worst franchise in sports.

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With the Clippers making smart personnel moves and playing well, your team could be next as the worst franchise in sports, or, to use the shorthand, "the Clippers." We've already lost the Cincinnati Bengals. This is getting serious.

What am I supposed to do as a writer without the adjective "Clipper-like" meaning anything? This is dire.

And what if your team is the Clippers? Hey, you signed up for that and you knew what you were getting into, so I don't want to hear about how it's finally your turn, Billy Crystal, and while we're talking could you please make a movie once in a while that doesn't make reasonable people want to throw up in their mouth?

Talk about upsetting the order of things!

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NHL actually playing hockey [PERMALINK]

In two different playoff games Monday night, teams rallied from three-goal deficits to take the lead, only to lose in overtime. Would two such games in an entire playoff year be conceivable at any time in the last decade?

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Let's hear it for the new rules and the crackdown on obstruction.

The Colorado Avalanche jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period over the Stars in Dallas, but the Stars scored three times in a little over four minutes early in the second, then took the lead on Mike Modano's goal with three seconds left in the period.

After Brett Clark tied the game with a shorthanded goal with a little over two minutes to play, Joe Sakic won it in overtime.

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In Raleigh, the Montreal Canadiens also jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead, but the Carolina Hurricanes went ahead with two second-period goals and then two power-play goals in the first minute and a half of the third. Montreal then got a pair of goals 36 seconds apart to get the lead back before Cory Stillman sent the game to overtime with a goal at 18:30.

This was all great news to viewers of OLN, which was doggedly showing the New Jersey Devils' workmanlike 4-1 rout of the New York Rangers. At one point, the broadcast went back to an excited Bill Clement in the studio twice in the space of a few minutes so he could show highlights of two goals at once, first the Hurricanes' pair early in the third period that gave them a 4-3 lead, then the two by the Canadiens that put them back on top 5-4.

"That's a wild one," said the play-by-play man as Clement tossed it back to him for more dull, one-sided hockey.

Michael Ryder finally scored 2:32 into the second overtime in Raleigh to give the Canadiens two road wins and send the series to Montreal with the Hurricanes, who are Stanley Cup contenders, on the ropes.

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Before this new era in the NHL, a 1-0 lead in a playoff game, never mind 3-0, was all but insurmountable. If it was 2-0, forget it. The team in front would go into a defensive shell, trapping, grabbing, holding, obstructing willy-nilly.

Watching your team trying to fight back from a playoff deficit was like trying to run in a dream. Endlessly frustrating -- but not in any way interesting.

The NHL lockout was a mind-bogglingly stupid affair. But if that's what it took to finally fix the NHL's on-ice product, and it appears that's what it took, then it was worth it.

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Nowitzki's not soft [PERMALINK]

Last week, in describing why I didn't like the Dallas Mavericks' chances to win it all, I called star forward Dirk Nowitzki "soft." Several letter writers, on the site and in my in box, complained about that word.

"It's really disappointing to see King ... fall into a lazy, overused (and untrue) argument about Dirk Nowitzki," wrote a reader with the screen name ericami. "Dirk clearly has many holes in his game, but 'softness' isn't one of them."

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Ericami, like others who wrote in, went on to describe how Nowitzki plays hurt and has turned himself into an elite rebounder, which you can't be if you're "soft."

All true, and "soft" wasn't quite the word I was looking for. That implies a distaste for physical play and a lack of toughness. What I meant was that at crunch time, Nowitzki has a way of either disappearing or making critical mistakes.

This is a "soft" observation on my part. It's just a feeling I have about Nowitzki, having watched him throughout his career. I'm saying, essentially, that he's not a clutch player. For all I know, there are numbers showing he is, in fact, a clutch player in the regular season, or even in the playoffs.

I'm just saying I'm not betting on him until he proves me wrong. Which I hope he does, because I like just about everything about the Dallas Mavericks, from their owner to their coach to their playing style to the shade of blue in their uniforms. I even like watching Dirk Nowitzki. He's a great talent and a tough customer.

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But my money goes elsewhere.

Previous column: TMQ back to ESPN

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