Ah the Los Angeles Clippers. The organization was truly optimistic after a tumulus but productive summer. True they lost forward Elton Brand, but management was very pleased with the roster they put together in the offseason.

Unfortunately early injuries and a brutal schedule have left the Clippers 0-4 with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on tap. Point guard Baron Davis struggled with his hip and finger. Forward/center Marcus Camby had the flu and then a bad heel. Forward Tim Thomas missed most of the preseason with a strained groin.

Drawing the Lakers and the Utah Jazz twice in their first five games, two teams projected to finish on top of their respective divisions, has made for a very challenging start.

"You hate losing but if we'd been playing these games . . . and all our guys were playing right now . . . then I'd really be discouraged," said Coach Mike Dunleavy before dropping their fourth of the season at home to the Jazz. "I'm not discouraged now; I'm just disappointed that we're in this situation because we knew what the schedule was going to be like early. It's a monster schedule. The first ten games, they averaged 57 wins [last season]."

Dunleavy had humble expectations for his team in the first few weeks, even at full strength.

"Honestly we needed to have all our guys in training camp, playing and working . . . to have a chance to go .500 in [the first ten games]. That would be a home run for us," continued the Clipper coach. "After that you hope your guys jell and have a great year."

The Clippers were surprised when Baron was able to play over 32 minutes against the Jazz. He wasn't expected back until the end of the week but had asked to be on the active roster just in case he felt good enough to play.

"We showed some flashes of being able to be a good team and be a team that can compete and play some solid basketball. I just think that once we get everybody operating in the same system and thinking on one accord - then it's going to open things up for everybody to score," said Davis after the loss. "I think everybody is frustrated with themselves, as well with frustrated with trying to figure out how they fit within this team's structure."

Camby also made his debut and for stretches the team looked formidable. Marcus had three blocked shots, nine boards and seven deflections in 27 minutes.

"We still have a lot of work to do," said Camby. "The schedule is definitely not in our favor. We have heavy hitters coming into LA every other game. We just need to buckle down and find a way to get a win."

Center Chris Kaman has struggled without Davis and Camby. He had his best night against the Jazz in this young season with 19 points, 10 boards and three blocked shots - but was shooting just 31.3% from the field leading up to the game.

"It's like there's a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel with those guys coming back," said Kaman. "Everybody knows what they're all capable of doing and if we can get everything on paper on the floor to come together, I think we'll be better."

Chris quickly noticed the benefit of playing with Baron and even apologized for dropping some of the passes sent his way that he didn't expect.

"I've never had someone who just that easily puts you in a position to score the basketball," said Kaman. "It's all new and that's the main point - we're trying to get used to it all it might take some time."

Talk about learning on the fly, Dunleavy started second-round pick Mike Taylor at point guard and with minute limitations/conditioning issues to deal with, struggled to cobble together a feasible rotation.

"There was a lineup out there tonight that had never played together before from the beginning of training camp until now," said an exasperated Dunleavy after the game.

It certainly didn't help that Utah's Paul Millsap suddenly turned into Karl Malone putting in 24 points, sealing the game in the fourth quarter.

Tim Thomas was overmatched and Dunleavy waited far too long to try a different man on Millsap - even if Camby was winded, he couldn't have struggled more than Thomas defensively.

Another disappointment so far has been the contribution of guard/forward Ricky Davis who has been all but invisible.

"The first place you need to start is rebounding and defending. You want to get big playing time? Go out there and lock somebody down and rebound - get defections - that's kind of where it all starts and then let your offense take care of itself," said Dunleavy of Davis. "We know he can shoot the ball but everybody has to do those other things. That's what keeps you on the floor."

The Clippers have a lot to work out and could very easily start the season 0-7. Assuming it takes about 47 wins to make the playoffs this season (last year it was 50), LA would need to go 47-28 the rest of the way. It's possible but the Clippers have quickly found themselves at a disadvantage.

"For us, the biggest factor right now is that we've had three of our top seven guys miss just about all of the preseason and we have 10 new guys on the team," explained Dunleavy. "It could take up to 20 games before you really jell. Right now we're just happy to start getting guys back and hopefully we can start showing what we can do."

The Clippers visit the Lakers on Wednesday night . . .
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