<
>

Beating the Curse

By Kevin Arnovitz

Every news story needs a larger frame, so when news of Blake Griffin's broken kneecap spread on Tuesday, the narrative that emerged was simply ...

"The Clippers are cursed."

Everywhere you turned, that was the trending topic.

Clippers' players and coaches were subjected to a barrage of questions about whether they believe the supernatural plays a role in the workings of professional basketball. Hard-boiled sportswriters whose discussions usually focus on the relative value of Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza were instead locked in fierce debates about whether hexes could legitimately befall a sports franchise like the Los Angeles Clippers. Even the most hallowed bastions of secularism indulged in superstition, hinting that the Clippers' organization was haunted.

Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy wanted none of it.

"I don't believe in curses or magic," Dunleavy said prior to the game.

Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, Dunleavy's counterpart down the hallway in Staples Center, is sometimes mystical in spirit. But he offered a similar rebuke to the Clipper curse.

"I don't believe in that," Jackson said. "You have to make your own luck."

Clippers guard Baron Davis was so sick of fielding the question that he told the Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman, "It would be like someone wishing writers' block on you when you're on deadline."

Desperate to change the conversation, the Clippers took the floor against the NBA champions Tuesday night at Staples Center for their season opener. Though the Clippers lost the game 99-92, their effort didn't suggest that they were a cursed squad -- merely a flawed one.

"Our guys played hard all the way through," Dunleavy said. "There were some times during the game when we could've folded and [the Lakers] could've blown it wide open. But we kept coming back."

Throughout the evening, there were instances when the best and hardest-working player on the floor was a Clipper. When the Lakers took a 15-point lead at the beginning of the second quarter, brawny forward Craig Smith led the rally, crashing through the paint at will and scoring 12 points in the period.

In the third quarter, Eric Gordon seized control of the Clippers' offense, muscling his way through the seams of the Lakers defense as well as hitting from outside. His 10-point third quarter helped bring the Clippers to within a single point.

The Clippers ultimately ran out of gas when the Lakers redoubled their defensive efforts in the fourth quarter, flooding the strong side on every play and swarming Gordon each time he touched the ball.

After the game, the mood was quiet in the Clippers' locker room, but it wasn't the gloom of a team feeling sorry for itself -- and certainly not one that felt bewitched.

They were disappointed they had lost a game they felt they could have won.

"We had a chance to win," Gordon said. "It's a new attitude this season. You can see it. We didn't play our best, but we had a chance."