LOS ANGELES (AP) -The Clippers went from the NBA's surprise team two years ago to one of its biggest disappointments last season.
They hope to use a different approach to become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference despite the absence of injured star Elton Brand.
``We're going to have to get out and run the floor,'' veteran point guard Sam Cassell said. ``We can't slow down. I don't think we were a good running team last year because we didn't know how to run. And to be a running team, you've got to know how to run.
``I mean, we can't walk the ball up and pound it inside now.''
The 28-year-old Brand tore his left Achilles' tendon Aug. 3 during a daily workout, and underwent surgery four days later. No timetable has been set for his return, but it won't be anytime soon.
Brand averaged 24.7 points and 10 rebounds two years ago, leading the Clippers to a 47-35 regular-season record and the second round of the playoffs, where they extended Phoenix to seven games before being eliminated.
Brand averaged 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds last season, when the Clippers went 40-42 and were eliminated from playoff contention on the season's final day.
``Elton's one of our leaders on this ballclub, but he's out,'' Cassell said. ``It's going to be difficult, but I'm confident that we'll be all right. We're going to shock a lot of people, I think. The key to our whole season is how hard we play. We've got to get every loose ball. Last year, we didn't get the loose balls, and it showed.''
The Clippers also will be without point guard Shaun Livingston indefinitely. Livingston tore three ligaments in his left knee last Feb. 26, and is still recuperating.
Veterans Brevin Knight and Dan Dickau were added to play the point, and will share the position with Cassell.
``You're not going to become a fastbreak team overnight,'' Knight said. ``So we have to be opportunistic in our fastbreak and take them when we have them and try to get quick scores. Right now, with Elton down, our strength is with our wings.''
That would include veterans Corey Maggette, Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley, and rookie Al Thornton, who has assured himself of extensive playing time with an excellent preseason.
``I think we have made some good additions on this roster,'' general manager Elgin Baylor said. ``We have some veterans, we have some younger players, so it's a good mixture. We have players now who can really run and give us an up-tempo team offense. But it depends on the team you're playing against.''
Thomas is the probable replacement for Brand in the starting lineup, with Paul Davis and Ruben Patterson also expected to get playing time at power forward.
``Most people say when you have a lot of new additions, it's going to take the first 20 games to figure things out,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. ``Then there are teams that who don't make many changes and take about half that.
``We still want to rebound, we want to defend, but I think the identity offensively is the one that we're going to be searching for a little bit more - as far as how we jell. We're going to play smaller than we have in the past, so you hope there's a mobility factor in there with the potential to play a little bit faster. But you have to be efficient when you do that.''
It would seem the Clippers will need more from center Chris Kaman, who signed a five-year contract extension worth over $50 million early last season but didn't live up to expectations, averaging 10.1 points and 7.8 rebounds.
``Chris doesn't have to prove anything. We know what he can do,'' Dunleavy said. ``That's not even an issue. He can shoot the ball in the post left-handed or right-handed. He can shoot jump shots. He shoots 75-plus percent from the free throw line. He rebounds and blocks shots and does a nice job defensively for us. I expect him to have an excellent year.''
If he does, the Clippers might as well.
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Freelance writer Joe Resnick contributed to this report.
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