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Preparing for stretch run
by Gerry Gittelson / March 8, 2002

Los Angeles (30-31) is four games behind the eighth-place Seattle SuperSonics in a race for the last Western Conference playoff spot. And considering the Clips' history of ineptitude -- two years ago that they were 15-67 and nobody blinked -- they aren't exactly the NBA's most trustworthy outfit.

With a nucleus of young talent this season, good things were expected. And the Clippers, at times, have looked as good as anyone. But injuries have been devastating -- Lamar Odom, Corey Magette and Keyon Dooling are all sidelined and could remain so through the end of the regular season -- so young players must come through during these pivotal final weeks.

New faces Tremaine Fowlkes and Doug Overton are in the midst of 10-day contracts, and both are contributing. But if Odom (who sprained his wrist on Dec. 14, then his ankle on Feb. 12) can reassert himself when (and if) he gets back -- he was the team's leading scorer last year, his second in the league -- he might be the key.

In Odom's absence, fellow forward Elton Brand has come forward in a big way. The All-Star averaged more than 23 points and 17 rebounds in a recent five-game spurt, and his 18.6 scoring average leads the team. He's an excellent offensive rebounder, and that might be the single most important attribute for an NBA post player.

Perhaps the Clippers need help down low. To that end, at least center Michael Olowokandi is back, so the Clippers' injury status has been upgraded from disastrous to severe. Another important development will be outside shooting. Eric Piatkowski is hot when he's hot ... but not lately.

The Clippers kept pace for a playoff berth by winning three in a row this past week. But a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday evening broke the string.

They'll look to regroup tonight (Friday) in Chicago. They're 21 games remaining. After road matchups at Cleveland on Sunday and Minnesota on Monday, the Clippers return home to the Staples Center on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.

Gerry Gittelson writes for the Los Angeles Daily News is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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