Clippers-76ers Preview

The Associated Press

The end of a brutal stretch for the Philadelphia 76ers is finally here.

The Los Angeles Clippers have only just begun their future minus Chauncey Billups.

Following a poor first game since losing their veteran leader, the Clippers look to bounce back Friday night by handing the 76ers a second straight home loss to a first-place team.

This matchup marks the finale of what coach Doug Collins termed as 'Death Row,' a seven-game span in which Philadelphia played four of the Eastern Conference's top six teams, two of the West's division leaders and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 76ers (18-8), who next play sub-.500 squads Cleveland and Charlotte, have impressed during this stretch with a 4-2 mark despite losing 100-90 to Southwest Division-leading San Antonio on Wednesday.

It was the first time in 10 games Philadelphia let a team reach 100 points, including 37 to Tony Parker - the most by any player against the Sixers this season.

"We have to be more alert," swingman Andre Iguodala said. "We have to keep aware of guys who can hurt us and try and not let them get good looks."

Philadelphia, giving up 87.2 points per game to rank among the league leaders, is 0-5 when allowing 100 or more and now meets one of the NBA's highest-scoring teams (99.0 ppg) as the Clippers continue a six-game trip.

Los Angeles (15-8) played Wednesday for the first time since Billups suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, facing a Cavaliers team which had lost eight of 11. The game was tied at halftime before the Clippers were outscored 17-4 to open the third quarter, and they came back to tie it in the fourth only to lose 99-92.

"We came out with a lack of energy," said Blake Griffin, who fouled out with 25 points and 15 rebounds. "That's on us. We had no urgency. We didn't play like we should."

One reason that happened could have been the absence of Billups, who was averaging 15.0 points and is the team's oldest player at 35. Randy Foye scored 15 points starting in his place.

Chris Paul had 16 points and 12 assists but shot 5 of 16 from the field.

"Everybody has to step up," Paul said. "There's not one person that can fill a void that big. Everybody is going to have to do a little bit more and it definitely starts with me and Blake."

The Clippers had won six of seven before Wednesday. The only time the Pacific Division leaders dropped back-to-back games was Dec. 28-30.

That hasn't happened once to the Sixers this season, and Elton Brand will look to prevent it against his former team. He returned Wednesday after missing two games with a sprained thumb, posting 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Brand has faced the Clippers five times since leaving via free agency, averaging 16.4 points and 7.0 boards. His best game against them in a Philadelphia uniform came in the last meeting, when he had 19 points and 12 rebounds in a 104-94 road victory March 16. He helped hold Griffin to 14 points and 3-of-12 shooting.

Another veteran forward was back on the floor Wednesday as Kenyon Martin made his Clippers debut with six points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.

Jrue Holiday averaged 22.0 points in the Sixers' two-game sweep of the Clippers last season. Teammate Spencer Hawes added 14.0 points and 9.0 boards per game, but it's unclear if the center will play after sitting out Wednesday with an Achilles problem.

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