Whatever approximation a Clipper fan might have of Corey Maggette's Basketball I.Q., or Mike Dunleavy's competence, or the precise effect of Quinton Ross' presence on the court, there's virtual unanimity among the Naçion about one thing:  The team's fortunes in the foreseeable future will rise and fall with Shaun Livingston's development.  It's the one irrefutable truism, no matter where you stand on the other big questions. 

So when Shaun's patella pops out and he crumples to the floor in the opening minutes of the game, there's more at stake than the "Jeez, I hope he's okay" that usually punctuates a moment like this.  Apart from anything he may or may not embody to a fan or spectator, Shaun is a 21-year-old kid who must be terrified beyond delirium when he feels his leg snap like a toothpick.  He deserves the compassion of every basketball well-wisher.

Whether it's fair or not, Shaun also embodies something larger.  Shaun has been carrying around the hopes of the Naçion since he was drafted in 2004.  On Saturday, he put together what might be the most professional game of his career - a 14 point, 14 assist effort against Golden State.  Following the game, Mike Dunleavy said, "Until I tell him to pull back, I want him to push the ball every time and I want him to explore. I want him to use his abilities. That's what could take us to another level."  And that's exactly what Shaun is doing in the first quarter when he picks up a steal at the other end and initiates the break with Raymond Felton in pursuit.   Four seconds later, Shaun is on the hardwood.

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When Corey Maggette comes off curls, or cuts off the ball from the weak  side, or runs that little give-and-go with Elton along the baseline, he's a slashing Ninja.  That's the kind of stuff he employs tonight and, in exchange, he picks up 19 points from the stripe in 20 attempts.  Fewer isolations and clear-outs, more touches for everyone else, and there's still 25 points for the taking. 

Watching Elton Brand work against a guy who has five inches on him reaffirms how important an effective Kaman is to the Clippers' success on the offensive end.  You think things might go a little differently for Elton tonight if he's dealing with Gerald Wallace and not Primoz Brevec? The good news is that Chris looks great: 5-7 FG, 10 points in 12 minutes.  Come to think of it, there's some sense in locking Chris in his house every nine weeks or so, turning off all refrigeration, clearing his cupboard, and hooking up an I.V. as his only source of nourishment.  Give him five days of pure schvitz, then return to regularly scheduled programming.