Knicks 80, Clippers 90
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New York @ Los Angeles
80 - 90
Record: 13-20
Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford fight for the ball with Mobley (AP Photo)
Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford fight for the ball with Mobley (AP Photo)
LOS ANGELES (AP) -When he wasn't scoring, Elton Brand was making it difficult for the New York Knicks to put points on the board.

Brand had 32 points and tied his career high with eight blocked shots, leading the Los Angeles Clippers to a 90-80 victory over the Knicks on Sunday.

"Our defense is what we prided ourselves in last year, and that's what kept us in ballgames," Brand said. "So we've got to be out there blocking shots, deflecting balls and rebounding. That's how we win."

The Knicks never led in their fifth straight road loss. They shot 29.5 percent in the first half, 34.5 percent for the game, and had 16 shots blocked by the aggressive Clippers.

"I don't think it had anything to do with our legs being tired. We were just poor with our execution," Knicks center David Lee said. "We don't have one of those guys who's going to score 50 points on his own, so we need to really work hard, execution-wise, and have all five guys in the right spots and moving the right way."

Brand scored 15 points in the first 7:17 of the game and didn't make another field goal until his tip-in of Cuttino Mobley 's missed 12-footer with 7:09 left in the third quarter. But Brand blocked seven shots during that drought, helping the Clippers increase their 13-point halftime lead to 62-45.

"Whenever we tried to move the ball to the weak side, we had poor spacing. And when we drove the ball, it was contested and we had to take tough shots," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "It's tough right now because we don't have a lot of shooters on the floor."

Mardy Collins returned to the Knicks' lineup after serving a six-game suspension and scored 11 points in 22 minutes. It was the rookie guard's flagrant foul against Denver's J.R. Smith that triggered a brawl at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16, resulting in the ejection of all 10 players on the court at the time and additional suspensions for teammates Nate Robinson (10 games), Jared Jeffries (four) and Jerome James (one).

"Anytime you sit out for a number of games, you always want to get back out there and play," Collins said. "The NBA decided that six games was enough, so I just had to deal with it. We're still short-handed at guard, so it's time for me to get some playing time, show people that I'm not that type of player, and I can actually play basketball the right way."

New York is 4-3 since the brawl.

"We were a pretty united group before the brawl, so we didn't need an artificial stimulus to unite us," Thomas said. "I'm not going to give that the credit instead of the players' hard work and what they've been able to do. They're better men than that, and they don't need to be artificially stimulated to stay together."

Collins' return allowed the Knicks to rest three-time All-Star guard Steve Francis , who was limited to just 46 minutes of playing time over the previous three games because of tendinitis in his right knee.

"It ain't cool sitting on the sidelines wearing suits, but I can't just keep dragging on with an injury that's not helping myself or helping my team," Francis said. "I was trying to hold off until one of the other guards came back, either Nate or Mardy. So I'm definitely grateful that Mardy was able to come back today."

Chris Kaman had 13 rebounds for the Clippers, who have won four of their last five games following a six-game losing streak. The victory was their fourth straight over New York and eighth in the last 11 meetings.

Eddy Curry had 15 points for the Knicks, who are 0-8 against the Clippers at Staples Center.

Brand's 18-footer gave Los Angeles its biggest lead, 82-58, with 8:10 to play. The Knicks got as close as 84-74 when Collins drained his third 3-pointer of the game to cap a 16-2 run with 3:38 remaining. Brand foiled the comeback with a dunk and a 17-footer that gave the Clippers a 90-74 lead with 1:32 left.

"We were 3-0 on the homestand and we're getting our swagger back," Brand said. "There's no better time than now, going back east for six games. "Since I've been here, this trip every year has been kind of a make-or-break stretch for us to make the playoffs."

Sunday was the 52nd anniversary of the night the Knicks shot a franchise record-low 23.5 percent from the field against the Milwaukee Hawks at Providence, R.I. ... Both teams played their final game with the NBA's much maligned new basketball, which will follow the Edsel, the pet rock and the hula hoop into oblivion on New Year's Day. The Knicks were 13-20 with it and the Clippers were 14-16. ... The Knicks finished December 7-9. They have not posted a winning record in any month since December 2004 (9-7). Last December they were 2-12.

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