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CLIPPERS SAVE FACE; OT WIN COMES AFTER SQUANDERING A 19-POINT LEAD : CLIPPERS 106 HOUSTON 101.

Byline: Randy Hill

According to unsubstantiated reports, the Great Clipper in the Sky looked down at the Sports Arena on Friday, shook his mighty worried head and said this:

``When are they gonna bulldoze that place?'' He also mumbled something about how his team's passive-regressive behavior has put him on the bad side of the Great Bookie in the Sky.

His predicament was created when Clippers coughed up a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Hall of Fame-heavy Houston Rockets and dragged an 89-89 tie into overtime in front of 13,855 at the House of Famine.

The Clips were saved from premature humiliation when Troy Hudson nailed a 3-pointer with eight seconds to play, and the team followed up with a 106-101 overtime victory.

Along the way, the Clips, obviously looking ahead to tonight's rematch with 8-36 Vancouver, managed to invite their fourth consecutive defeat.

Like kids picking at their food, the Clippers have developed a disturbing skill at not finishing. Before the date with Houston, they had lost three games by a combined nine points.

Friday, they led 21-16 after the opening quarter, with Maurice Taylor (six points) and rookie center Michael Olowokandi (four points, four rebounds) staying alive in the turf war with Houston's Springfield-bound frontcourt. Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, who spent part of the pre-game dispensing a some low-post wisdom to Olowokandi (they both were born in Lagos, Nigeria), schooled Olowokandi for eight points in the period.

With customary bench contributions from Lamond Murray (six points) and Lorenzen Wright (five points, four rebounds), the Clippers looked feisty in round two.

The Clippers built 13-point leads on three occasions, but a late 6-0 run put the Rockets within six (44-38) at intermission.

Round three featured Taylor taking Charles Barkley, also on the Hall of Fame short list, on a one-way trip to the woodshed. Taylor, loading up with the complete arsenal of spins, jump hooks and face-up jumpers, scored 12 points in the quarter that ended with a 68-57 Clippers lead.

Anyone who's watched the home team expected the final period to get a bit dicey. But Clipper guard Eric Piatkowski's 3-pointer at 10:25 of the fourth quarter pushed the advantage to 73-59. Tyrone Nesby the Good Clipper in the Sky followed with a swoop and scoop that he converted while being fouled. His free throw made it 76-69 with 9:47 left.

That's when the Clippers decided to fold like a lawn chair.

The Rockets moved to within winning distance with a 12-0, then pulled to within 86-85 on a 3-pointer by Olajuwon at the 1:03 mark. Scottie Pippen, Hall of Famer No. 3, drilled a 20-footer to give Houston the lead with 27 seconds left. Barkley added two free throws, before Hudson became the hero.

CLIPPERS vs. VANCOUVER

Time: 8 p.m. at the Sports Arena.

TV/Radio: Fox Sports West 2; KCTD-AM (1540).

Clippers (7-35) update: The good news? They still haven't lost to Vancouver at the Sports Arena this season (one loss went into double overtime at the Pond). Will the Clips find a way to slow down Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim? He averaged 28 points and eight rebounds in the previous three meetings.

Grizzlies (8-35) update: Three of their victories came against the Clippers.

- Randy Hill

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Box: CLIPPERS vs. VANCOUVER (See text)
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 24, 1999
Words:554
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