AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — It wasn't the closing act the Clippers wanted for a winning trip, which ended here Wednesday night in a 97-87 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
The Clippers said a victory against the formidable Pistons would have provided the capper to a trip among the best in franchise history, and helped in their efforts to prove they're for real.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, though, Detroit had extra incentive to end its first two-game losing streak of the season and point guard Sam Cassell, whose clutch shooting helped to provide the difference in their last three victories, sat out because of back spasms.
The combination proved more than the Clippers could overcome despite 30 points from power forward Elton Brand and 27 from swingman Cuttino Mobley in a loss that also ended a four-game winning streak.
Swingman Tayshaun Prince scored 22 points, including eight unanswered early in the fourth quarter to help the Pistons pull away for good after the Clippers had cut the lead to 71-70 on guard Daniel Ewing's jumper.
Then forward Rasheed Wallace ended the Clippers' late comeback attempt. Wallace, who had 19 points, made a three-point shot and jumper that extended the Pistons' lead to 92-81 with under two minutes left, and the Clippers were at the end of the road.
"Down the stretch, I thought we had a chance until Rasheed made those threes. Those were real daggers for us," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "They weren't wide open, we had guys coming at him, and he made good shots.
"Obviously, we are a bit disappointed. We would have liked to play Detroit a bit better than we did ... but it was a great trip."
The Clippers went 4-2 on their longest trip of the season, proving much to themselves in an 11-day span against the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and Pistons.
The Clippers had the second-best winning percentage on a trip in franchise history, bolstering their confidence about contending for the Pacific Division title. Although eager to defeat Detroit, the Clippers were upbeat overall about a strong stretch away from Staples Center.
"It was still a great road trip," said Brand, who scored at least 30 points in five of the six games. "Any time you can come home over .500 it's great.
"It was definitely tough without Sam, but they're a great team, so no excuses. We had a few opportunities, but they came back."
The Pistons swept the two-game season series and have a seven-game winning streak against the Clippers, who apparently made a good impression.
"They have done a really nice job, and they've got some good young players," Detroit Coach Flip Saunders said. "They're going to be a team that's pretty good if they can keep everyone together for a while."
Cassell has been among the keys to the turnaround. The 12-year veteran had a remarkable run of making timely shots on the trip in victories over the Celtics, Raptors and Knicks.
When Cassell experienced tightness in pregame warmups Wednesday, the Clippers decided to proceed cautiously with the 36-year-old team captain.
"It's just a precaution, nothing major," said Cassell, whose back was wrapped during the game.
"We've got a couple of games coming up at home, so I discussed it with Mike, and we just decided to take the night off. We have two days to rest, and I'll be ready."
Second-year point guard Shaun Livingston started and had a career-high 12 assists, but missed five of seven field-goal attempts and scored only four points. Cassell averages 18 points and a team-high 6.5 assists.
"Shaun did a magnificent job of getting everyone involved," Cassell said. "But I bring that dimension plus scoring the basketball. You take that out the lineup and it hurts, but our guys gave a hell of an effort.
"We played as a team. We don't have moral victories because of a loss, but no doubt about it, this was a great trip."
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Tale of two trips
How the Clippers and Lakers just fared away from home:
*--* CLIPPERS LAKERS 4-2 Record 2-5 100.8 Avg. Points 95.7 97.5 Opp. points 100.3 138-152 Opp. record 174-163