Updated: May 2, 2006, 4:34 PM ET

Clips approaching 'Hallway'

LOS ANGELES -- No single celebratory chant took hold, even as the lead zoomed up to 25 points.

You heard a few soft murmurs of "Lakers Suck, Lakers Suck" … but you really had to be listening for it.

Another pocket of fans then tried to get a "Beat L.A." thing going, which common sense quickly drowned out.

Not that Clipper Nation can be faulted.

Playoff Schedule
Western Conf. First Round
San Antonio 2, Sacramento 2
Game 5: Tues., 9:30 ET, at SA

L.A. Lakers 3, Phoenix 1
Game 5: Tues., 10:30 ET, at PHX

Dallas 4, Memphis 0
Next: Mavs play Spurs-Kings winner

L.A. Clippers 4, Denver 1
Next: Clips play Suns-Lakers winner

Eastern Conf. First Round
Indiana 2, New Jersey 2
Game 5: Tues., 7 ET, at NJ

Miami 2, Chicago 2
Game 5: Tues., 8 ET, at MIA

Cleveland 2, Washington 2
Game 5: Wed., 7:30 ET, at CLE

Detroit 3, Milwaukee 1
Game 5: Wed., 6 ET, at DET

The full playoff schedule

If they didn't quite know how to channel their towel-waving and raucous elation into a chorus directed at Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, while they were also trying to soak in the moment as the seconds ticked down on their own first-round fairly tale, that's totally understandable.

They've never been here before, remember.

"Thirty years in the making," Elton Brand said.

Three decades, indeed, since this franchise last won a playoff series. Since moving from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984, L.A.'s other team (how many times have you heard that before?) had won four playoff games before seeing the Denver Nuggets … while the Lakers were winning six championships.

Yet there was something else to consider Monday night as the Los Angeles Clippers won the franchise's first playoff series since I was a 7-year-old devotee of Dr. Jack's Buffalo Braves in 1976.

There can only be a Hallway Series if the Lakers get there.

Team Sherman rolled into the Hallway first with a 101-83 trouncing of the Denver Nuggets to complete what felt like a 4-1 sweep. The Clips wanted the Nuggets, indulged in a little tanking to make sure they got the Nuggets and promptly demoralized the Nuggets to the point that, in George Karl's words, Denver "broke apart."


Now they're one Lakers victory away (with three chances for the Lakers to close Phoenix out) from hauling two decades of envy into the sort of best-of-seven we've never, ever seen.

All seven games in the same arena, with references to home-court advantage replaced by home-floor advantage.

That's right. The Clippers know -- unless Phoenix becomes just the eighth team all-time to overturn a 3-1 deficit -- that a Game 7 would be played on their planks of plywood.

If necessary.

"It's still kind of surreal," Brand said, struggling to imagine a Game 1 against the Lakers, let alone a Game 7.

They've shared a city for more than 20 years, and they've shared a building for six, but Brand knows better than anyone that these franchises were never in the same zip code on the NBA map. Never in the same time zone.

That's why even the new Clippers, like Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, were on the reflective side as Monday spilled into Tuesday. Cassell and Mobley are the cocky Clips who, along with coach Mike Dunleavy, sparked the culture change in Clipperdom that made them consensus favorites to win Brand's first-ever playoff series. Yet Mobley hasn't forgotten what the Clippers were until this season.

"I definitely laughed at them," Mobley said. "And I used to stay out late the night before we played 'em."

But then Mobley elected to sign with them last summer, spurning Denver (among others) for the chance to play with Brand and become the most expensive free-agent recruit ($40 million-plus over five years) in team history. His close pal Cassell was acquired shortly thereafter to be the closer -- and source of swagger -- this team has never had in California.

"If it happens," Mobley said of the Lakers, "they're going to be ready for us."

The headline writers will be ready, too, since everyone knows what to call it . . . but a Hallway Series is tough to call. Looking at the pure talent and matchups, it's tough not to favor the Clips. They have interior forces (Brand and Chris Kaman) to dwarf and shame what the Lakers have seen from Phoenix. They have more options on the bench and more veterans, too. The Clips even have a defensive committee at the swing positions that would, at worst, make Bryant work: Quinton Ross, Corey Maggette and Mobley, who's been fairly successful against Kobe in the past with his length and knowledge of Bryant's game from their Philly pick-up encounters.

The Lakers, though, would have the serious momentum edge, provided they finish Phoenix off in the next two games. They're a different team than they were a month ago and now they've even built up some Lakers mystique of their own after Sunday's resurrection against the Suns. You also have to wonder how these Clips will respond to their first dose of pressure, since Denver subjected them to exactly none, and how rangy Kaman (ankle) and Cassell (who had an ice pack on his back for much of the second half) will be.

"I feel like this team was made for the playoffs," Dunleavy said. "We can match up with anybody and we can play any way. We can go big. We can go small. We can play fast. We can play slow.

"There's not a team out there we couldn't beat."

"We're trying," Brand said, "to start our own tradition."

Winning a Hallway Series would be a fine start. With Bryant and ex-Clipper Lamar Odom on the other side -- after Kobe famously flirted with the Clips so seriously that he almost switched locker rooms at Staples in the free-agent summer of 2004 -- it would almost certainly be recorded as a man-bites-dog achievement even though these Lakers are a lower seed.

Yet you needn't expect the Clips to complain. They're so geeked to (maybe) finally have a shot at Big Brother that they're not complaining about anything at the minute.

Not even about Bryant's two doses of buzzer magic in this building, seemingly just hours before they sent the Nuggets fishing, swiping away a healthy chunk of the Clippers' thunder locally.

"We're winning games by 15," Brand said with a smile. "We understand that's not as exciting."

Then, with a dose of Clippers confidence that's truly unprecedented, Brand added: "We'll see who's thunderous at the end."

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Detroit Winner

AP Photo/Morry Gash
Pistons guard Richard Hamilton reacts in front of Chauncey Billups after making a 3-point basket during the fourth quarter. The Pistons beat the Bucks, going up 3-1 in their first round series.

Doesn't Smell Like ... Victory
Cue the Three 6 Mafia.

♪ "It's hard out here for a pimp Memphis sports fan." ♪

Some people think sports cities like Cleveland, Buffalo and Philadelphia have suffered the most pain and misery.

But they can't touch the Birthplace of the Blues, which is in a bigger slump than Francis Ford Coppola since he made "Apocalypse Now."

For decades, Memphis, aka the Bluff City, tried and tried and tried to get a big-league sports team. Every bid came up short.

Then, the ultimate insult -- the Houston Oilers made a one-year stopover on their way to Nashville, which made Memphis the Chris Klein of the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise relationship.

Growing up in West Tennessee, I didn't get to see NFL or NBA games in Memphis. Rather, I saw the Memphis Rogues (North American Soccer League) and Memphis Showboats (United States Football League).

And let's not forget the Memphis Americans, Blues, Chicks, Express, Fire, Hot Shots, Houn'Dawgs, Mad Dogs, Maniax, Pharoahs, Pros, Red Sox, Redbirds, RiverKings, Rockers, Royals, Sounds, Southmen, Tams and Xplorers.

Yes, my old town has done more than its share to prop up the minor league sports business.

Finally, finally, when the Grizzlies moved in, Memphis had the real thing -- a major sports team. And now the Grizz are one of the 10 best in the NBA, in fact.

But they just can't catch a break. They should have been the No. 4 seed in the West, hosting the Clippers. But the NBA's convoluted playoff system meant they lost home court and were stuck playing the mighty Mavs.

A brutal overtime loss in Game 3 foretold their fate -- they were on their way to their third consecutive playoff oh-fer.

Zero wins, 12 losses.

To be fair, the Grizzlies have a lot to compete with. I mean, they'll never be able to match hometown hero Jerry "The King" Lawler, who won 112 pro wrestling titles.

So small steps. Let's hope the Grizzlies can someday win a playoff game. And find a player to replace The King as the biggest sports star in Memphis.

-- Royce Webb

SportsNation: Rate The Playoffs

Which player has been the top performer in the first round of the NBA playoffs?

58.4% Kobe Bryant, Lakers
15.3% Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
14.0% LeBron James, Cavaliers
3.6% Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
3.3% Kirk Hinrich, Bulls
1.9% Ben Gordon, Bulls
1.1% Vince Carter, Nets
0.8% Steve Nash, Suns
0.7% Michael Redd, Bucks
0.5% Jermaine O'Neal, Pacers
0.4% Dwyane Wade, Heat

Which player has been the biggest disappointment in the first round of the NBA playoffs?

44.9% Shaquille O'Neal, Heat
28.4% Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
12.4% Manu Ginobili, Spurs
10.2% Pau Gasol, Grizzlies
2.0% Jason Kidd, Nets
1.3% Ben Wallace, Pistons
0.9% Stephen Jackson, Pacers

Vote! More questions on the playoffs

Spirit Of '76

The last time the Clippers won a playoff series, America was gripped by Bicentennial fever, and the team was in Buffalo, known as the Braves.

Not Since Buffalo

Sweep Approval Rating

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki waves to the fans as he leaves the court after the Mavs defeated the Grizzlies, 102-76, sweeping the series. Nowitzki led Dallas with 27 points.

Extreme Behavior
Chauncey Billups

Monday's Best
Pistons guard Chauncey Billups:
Made all 16 of his free throws as the Pistons regained control of the series with a 109-99 win over the Bucks. Billups finished with 34 points and six assists.

Manu Ginobili

Monday's Worst
Bucks forward Andrew Bogut: The No. 1 overall pick struggled in the late going, missing free throws, throwing the ball away and fouling out. Finished with seven points at least.

Quote of the Day
"The big thing is with them, it doesn't matter who takes that shot."
-- Bucks guard T.J. Ford, saluting the Pistons.

See how all 59 who played stacked up
Hollinger playoff stats (Dirk's No. 1)
Super stats from 82games.com

-- Andrew Ayres

Elias Says
In the Mavericks' four-game sweep of the Grizzlies, they had 45 more rebounds than their opponents (172-137, a difference of 11.3 per game) and Dallas took 41 more shots than Memphis (307-266, 10.3 per game).

It was only the second playoff series in NBA history in which one team swept another while averaging at least 10 more rebounds and 10 more shots per game than its opponent. The Celtics swept the Pacers in a best-of-five series in the first round in 1992, while averaging nearly 15 more rebounds and over 10 more shots per game.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

That' s Entertainment

I know one thing, Kobe is the only reason I watch playoff basketball instead of playoff hockey. What an amazing player. Like Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, he is a perfect athlete for his sport. Incredible shot Kobe.
-- Kevin (Boston)

I am a "Sports Bigamist." Until now, I've never truly had to confront this dark skeleton in my closet. As a native Angelino, I am naturally a fan of all the local sports teams: Dodgers, Kings, Sparks, Raiders (on again, off again) and of course, The Lakers AND the Clippers. I know that every Mets or White Sox fan who reads this is probably going to gush with anger. How could I love the loveable Clippers (the underdog franchise of the decade) and simultaneously pledged allegiance to the hated Lakers? Well, you see, I've never had to truly think about it. The Lakers have been winning titles in Los Angeles since before I was in diapers and the Clippers moved here the same year I was born, but never make it to the playoffs.

In fact, the most I ever hoped for as far as the Clippers were concerned was that they didn't get blown out TOO badly. Now, my first love, the Lakers, are about to confront my secret mistress, the Clippers... in the PLAYOFFS!!! Can't David Stern just wave a wand and declare both teams the winners? Then they can tag-team San Antonio in the conference finals. I have always said I wanted them to play each other in a series, but now that it's happening, I don't know who to root for. I think I'll be cheering for the Lakers, just out of habit (it is May, after all). Eventually, the series will end. And one of them will have to lose, which will truly tear out a part of my heart. I'm so happy, yet ... so sad.
-- Eric (Los Angeles)

This is one of the best playoffs I have seen in years. The individual rivalries (LeBron v. Arenas, Kobe v. Nash) controversies (the "walk", the foul calls etc.) and all the close games all contributed to what I remember the playoffs being like.
-- Sklim (NY)

Dirk Nowitzki has been the best player in the playoffs, and the Mavericks have been the best team. I understand that covering him isn't "sexy" (as much as I hate that phrase), but why is he not getting any love from the media? It was this time last year that they barbecued him daily for not scoring 53 on McGrady. Now that he's dominating a high-quality defensive opponent and leading a team that looks like it could be the future NBA champ, he gets no appreciation whatsoever. Dirk is the best player in the playoffs leading the best team.
-- Jon (Houma, LA)

The Heat struggling with Chicago? The Nets struggling with Indy? The Spurs struggling with Sacramento? The Pistons going 5 deep on the bench? I can see the LOB trophy returning to Deeeee-troooiit already!
-- Christian (Chicago)

Send your reaction to playoffs

Down Goes Denver
reggie evans

You know how they say that the close-out game is always the toughest? Folks were saying that a lot before Monday night's Game 5 of Clippers-Nuggets, and you even heard it a few times afterward, but I don't think anyone here truly believed it.

Not with the Clippers only needing to close out a divided Denver team.

The Nuggets were granted a major (and inexplicable) break before tip-off from the league office when Reggie Evans was merely fined for that between-the-legs feel he copped on Chris Kaman in Game 4. The Nuggets themselves were bracing for no less than a one-game suspension … and I can't wait to hear Ron Artest's reaction.

It was going to take a lot more than Evans, though, to pull the Nuggets back together, whether he played 40 minutes or the four he actually logged. There's a reason why Elton Brand felt loose enough to joke that "we went to Modell's and got everyone a cup" for protection.

The Clips see what everyone saw in this series. Denver is such a fractious group that, while you can't ignore the Nuggets' lack of perimeter shooting to take defenders away from Carmelo Anthony, they never had a chance to win in six … as some poor sap projected.

Rumblings about player discontent with coach George Karl have been growing louder -- the list apparently does not stop at the suspended Kenyon Martin -- and those rumblings were confirmed in defeat by 'Melo.

"We have issues," Anthony said. "I [saw] guys who did not want to be here and play in this game."

Now to see how many changes stem from those "issues."

K-Mart, for starters, is sure to be shopped. The Nuggets, I'm told, are confident they can hang onto Nene as he becomes a restricted free agent … if they can find a trade taker for Martin.

Yet it remains to be seen who'll be doing the K-Mart shopping. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe's contract expires on Aug. 1 and owner Stan Kroenke's increasing reliance on unofficial club adviser Bret Bearup is well-documented.

-- Marc Stein at Staples Center in L.A.


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