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CLIPPERS LOSE GUT WRENCHER : MINNESOTA 100, CLIPPERS 98.

Byline: Scott Wolf Daily News Staff Writer

Another nail-biter. Another last-second loss for the Clippers.

It's turned into a rougher-than-average week, even by Clippers standards, as Minnesota barely hung on for a 100-98 victory over L.A. on Friday night before 11,758 at the Sports Arena.

The Clippers lost to New York by a point on Wednesday, and this loss was nearly as tough to take.

At least this time, there was no controversy at the end as James Robinson got to take the final shot but missed a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer.

The Clippers (15-55) had two shots in the final seconds, but converted neither. Rodney Rogers drove to the basket with less than 10 seconds left, but was soundly rejected by Kevin Garnett. Fitch said a Minnesota player stepped on Rogers' foot, allowing Garnett to block the shot so easily.

Darrick Martin got the rebound, and passed to Robinson, who missed as time expired.

``It's a gut wrencher,'' Clippers coach Bill Fitch said of the loss.

The Timberwolves (37-34) did nearly anything they could to give the game away, but luckily for them, the Clippers failed to capitalize. Minnesota did not score a field goal in the final 3:44.

But the Wolves did manage to grab six offensive rebounds in the closing minutes, and even though they couldn't score, they kept the ball away from the Clippers.

``No question that was the brutal part, the rebounds,'' Fitch said. ``They just beat us to the ball.''

Ironically, the Clippers outrebounded Minnesota 44-30 for the game.

The final sequence was not the only chance the Clippers had to win or send the game into overtime. With 39 seconds left, and Minnesota ahead 99-98, Martin put up an off-balance shot because the 24-second clock nearly expired. The offense had clearly broken down when Martin lofted his prayer.

``It shouldn't get down to one offensive possession,'' Fitch said.

Lamond Murray had another strong game, with 20 points and 10 rebounds. But Murray did not play in the fourth quarter. Fitch said Maurice Taylor had a hot hand (12 points in the quarter) and it was a better defensive matchup on Garnett.

Robinson had 15 points for the second straight game, while Isaac Austin had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Sam Mitchell led Minnesota with 22 points and eight rebounds.

Anthony Peeler, the former Laker, bit through his lip in the second quarter after a collision with Robinson but was able to return and finished with 12 points. Former Clipper Stanley Roberts had eight points and six rebounds.

Notes: Clippers guard Eric Piatkowski did not suit up, bothered by a strained stomach muscle. Piatkowski originally suffered the injury last week against Seattle, but re-aggravated it Thursday during practice. He is listed as day-to-day but will probably miss Sunday's game against Dallas at the Sports Arena.

Fitch defended his decision to pull Robinson out of Wednesday's game against the Knicks in the final two minutes, even though Robinson scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers went scoreless after Robinson was removed. ``Are you going to put Robinson on (Allan) Houston or Piatkowski? It would have been easy to leave the tired guy out there. Let him get exposed. When you've got a five-point lead, you've got to have your defense . . . or the fresh guys out there.''

Fitch said he took Robinson out because he was tired. Robinson refused comment after the game, saying ``ask the coach.''
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 28, 1998
Words:578
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