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Brand leaves mark again as Clippers beat Bulls

Skiles says All-Star forward one of league's top players

Brand leaves mark again as Clippers beat Bulls

General manager John Paxson will be armed with cap room and personnel flexibility when he attempts to augment and perhaps alter the nucleus of this young Bulls team during the off-season with draft picks, free-agent signings and trades.

"We are trying to get better and we are trying to do it the right way without making some crazy mistakes that other teams have made and have really become difficult to recover from," Paxson said earlier this week.

Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers was a direct reminder that the Bulls' first effort to restructure in the post-Michael Jordan era took a detour when they traded away 1999 first-round draft pick Elton Brand.

Now an All-Star forward averaging nearly 26 points and 10 rebounds a game, Brand helped the Clippers knock off the Bulls, 107-96, at the United Center.

The loss leaves the Bulls 3 1/2 games out of the eighth spot for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"I do like our young talent here, but it needs to get better," Paxson said. "And we need some better veterans if we can go out and get them. We all get discouraged by losing. I sit there every game and see the little things that happen and you feel like they cost you games. But the reality is that we are still some time away from being what I hope we can be. And that's going to take some good decision-making on our part."

Veteran guard Sam Cassell led all scorers with 32 points. Brand had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Kirk Hinrich had 21 points.

"(Brand) is clearly one of the top 10 players in the league, maybe the top five," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "I read early on that he said he is in much better shape this year and that has helped. He has shot the ball well from the perimeter. He is just having a fantastic season."

Brand was dealt to the Clippers in 2001 because former Bulls GM Jerry Krause didn't think he could lead the Bulls to a championship.

"He doesn't have a real flashy game. The flashy things that you see on the various sports channels are dunks," Skiles said. "He is more of a skill guy, not that he doesn't have his share of highlights, but he just does it in kind of a workmanlike way. Maybe he doesn't draw a lot of attention to himself. But his numbers this year are eye-popping if you look at that. And coupled with their record and the things he has done ... he has been great."

n Career high

Jason Richardson scored a career-high 44 points to win a shootout with Dwyane Wade and lead the Golden State Warriors to a 111-106 victory Friday, snapping Miami's 10-game winning streak.

Wade scored a season-high 42, making it the first time in Heat history that a player for both teams scored at least 40 points.

The Heat had the longest current winning streak in the NBA, although none of its past 10 games was against a team now above .500. That included the last-place Warriors, who snapped a four-game losing streak and won on the road for the first time in seven tries since the All-Star break.

n T-Mac sidelined

The Houston Rockets will be without superstar leading scorer Tracy McGrady for up to five weeks as he recovers from a back injury, the National Basketball Association team said Friday.

McGrady, a six-time All-Star who has been dealing with back problems all season, fell on his tailbone late in the third quarter of Sunday's victory over Portland and did not return.

McGrady returned to the lineup Wednesday and scored 15 points in 21 minutes against Indiana before aggravating his back in the third period.

"It's frustrating," McGrady said afterward. "I've been dealing with it all season. It's the same old issue I've been dealing with."

The loss of McGrady is a serious blow for the Rockets (29-33), who are in 11th place in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers who beat the Spurs 100-92 on Friday. The Rockets are 2-13 without their superstar swingman this season.

The Warriors won for the first time in their past 11 games in Miami.

In NBA action on Friday: Orlando 102, Cleveland 73; Denver 108, Toronto 97; Milwaukee 92, Boston 86; Indiana 92, New Orleans 90; Sacramento 105, Memphis 93; Seattle 107, Minnesota 96.