Elton Brand scored 29 points in his third game off the injured list, and Andre Miller scored seven of his 19 points in the final 3:16 as the Clippers put the Knicks one step closer to elimination from the playoff picture with a 109-98 victory Saturday night.
“We were aware, and that’s what’s even more disappointing,” New York guard Allan Houston said. “Every time we can really make up some ground, we just don’t do it. It’s inexplicable, how we can play like we did in the first two games of this trip and then don’t tonight.
“It’s frustrating. I mean, I can imagine the people who watch us and how frustrated they can be. You try not to look in the past and dwell on all those games you could have made up—especially this one. The bottom line is that we didn’t do what was necessary, so we are in the position we’re in for a reason.”
New York’s fourth defeat in six games, coupled with Milwaukee’s overtime loss at Chicago, left the Knicks one loss or one Milwaukee victory away from missing the postseason for the second straight season. The last time that happened was from 1985 to 1987—Hubie Brown’s last three seasons as coach of New York.
The Knicks’ next game is Tuesday night against Atlanta at Madison Square Garden. Milwaukee’s next game is Wednesday night at home against the Clippers.
“Considering how many close games we’ve lost, it’s disappointing that we’re not in,” Latrell Sprewell said. “We could easily be at 40-45 wins. But the bottom line is, we weren’t good enough in a lot of those games to finish down the stretch like we were supposed to. We just have to learn from it and do better next year.”
Sprewell led the Knicks with 29 points, and Clarence Weatherspoon had 12 points and 14 rebounds. Houston, returning to Staples Center for the first time since scoring a career-high 53 points against the NBA champion Lakers on Feb. 16, shot 3-for-16 and finished with eight points in 37 minutes.
“I didn’t really get to the spots I wanted to get to,” Houston said. “They did a good job. A lot of times, I’ve just been able to get going sooner or later, but I just was never able to do it tonight.”
Kurt Thomas, whose clutch block on John Stockton’s 18-footer at the final buzzer Friday night at Utah preserved an overtime victory for the Knicks, fouled out with 2 1/2 minutes left and finished with four points in 18 minutes.
Trailing by six with 7 1/2 minutes to play, the Knicks closed to 92-91 with Houston’s 18-footer and Charlie Ward’s 3-pointer—one of 21 by New York in 34 attempts. But the Clippers put the game out of reach with a 13-5 run, capped by a 16-footer by Miller that gave them a 105-96 cushion with 42 seconds left.
“We definitely gave them too many layups,” Sprewell said. “We could have done a better job getting back on defense. That’s been our biggest problem.”
Los Angeles extended a five-point lead to 75-64—its largest of the game— with layups by Brand and Andre Miller and a reverse dunk by Brand with 5:37 left in the third quarter. But the Clippers’ lead was whittled to 83-80 by the end of the period as Travis Knight’s tip-in capped a 7-2 spurt by New York.
The Clippers outscored New York 19-9 over the last 7 1/2 minutes of the second quarter and led 54-49 at halftime. Brand got them going with a 17-point first quarter that included four blocks by center Sean Rooks—who had no more than three in any of his other 64 games this season.
“I really wanted to get off to a good start and finish everything around the rim,” Brand said.
The most spectacular block of the game was by Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who skied so high on an attempted layup by Shandon Anderson in the final two minutes of the second quarter, he nearly caught the ball.
Sprewell, who had a season-high 38 points against the Clippers in a 105-92 win at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 4, scored 12 points in the first 5 1/2 minutes, and New York used a 12-2 run late in the quarter to take a 32-27 leadinto the second.
Miller and Knicks C Michael Doleac were college teammates for three seasons at Utah, including 1997-98, when the Utes went to the NCAA championship game before losing to Kentucky. … Chaney’s record with the Knicks is 54-86. His record with the Clippers was 53-132. … Howard Eisley scored 12 points, becoming the first Knicks guard with at least 700 points and 400 assists in the same season since Derek Harper in 1994-95. … The Knicks have lost all four times they’re played the Clippers at Staples Center, after beating them in eachof their last five visits to the L.A. Sports Arena.