Los Angeles 96, Seattle 91

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 28 (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers took the court knowing they would play the rest of the season without point guard Shaun Livingston, and that 37-year-old Sam Cassell would be taxed even more from game to game.

So the rest of the Clippers pitched in wherever they could.

Elton Brand shrugged off one of his poorest shooting nights of the season and made like a point guard with a season-high seven assists, helping the Clippers beat the Seattle SuperSonics 96-91 on Wednesday night.

Livingston tore three ligaments in his left knee and dislocated his kneecap in Monday's 100-93 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. But the playoff-contending Clippers displayed their depth and hung on for their third straight victory after spending Tuesday commiserating over the injury-jinxed Livingston's latest setback.

"We needed to take a step forward despite his injury,'' Brand said. "I mean, we're not putting that behind us or anything because he's with us. We didn't want to dedicate this game to him, because anything less than a blowout wouldn't have been enough for him because he's a great kid.''

Corey Maggette scored 18 points, including a pair of tiebreaking free throws with 27 seconds left. Cassell, who came in averaging 26.7 minutes a game, played 34 minutes against the Sonics and had 16 points along with five assists.

Brand, who entered averaging a team-high 20.7 points, started at center for the fourth straight game and was 0-for-3 from the field in the first half. He was 5-for-14 overall, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds.

"When you play good defense on Elton Brand, you also have to worry about their other guys,'' Seattle coach Bob Hill said. "Cuttino Mobley hit some big shots at the end, and Maggette was slashing to the basket and getting to the line.''

Rashard Lewis scored 21 points for the Sonics, who got 19 each from Ray Allen and reserve guard Earl Watson.

Chris Wilcox, a former Clippers first-round draft pick who was traded to Seattle last February for snowboarding fan Vladimir Radmanovic, shot 6-for-6 from the field and finished with 13 points. Wilcox didn't attempt another shot over the last 15+ minutes, and committed a critical foul that led to Maggette's go-ahead free throws.

For the first time this season, the Clippers won the opening game of a back-to-back set. They were 0-for-13 in the first game and 8-5 in the second. Los Angeles won its third in a row after losing seven of eight, and plays the Sonics again Thursday night at Seattle. But they may be without Cassell, who is listed as questionable after straining his groin in the fourth quarter.

"We finally won the first of a back-to-back, which is a little late in the season for that. But we're happy to get that monkey off of our back,'' Brand said. "Now we need to go up to their place and play well.''

After Cassell's layup put the Clippers ahead 91-89 with 2:48 to play, Lewis blocked a layup at the other end by Chris Kaman and Allen tied it seconds later with a short jumper. Maggette's two free throws put Los Angeles back in front, then Watson committed the most egregious of Seattle's 15 turnovers when his high pass for Nick Collison in the low post went off his fingertips and out of bounds.

Kaman converted Collison's ensuing foul into two free throws with 11 seconds left.

"We really played well in that fourth quarter and stopped them with our defense,'' Brand said. "We've been really clamping down in the fourth because we really want these victories. But we need to play a full game so that we don't lose leads and have to play with so much passion at the end of the game to get the win.''

The Clippers never trailed in the first half, converting 10 Seattle turnovers into 12 points en route to a 51-43 lead in front of their eighth sellout crowd of the season. The Sonics trailed by as many as 12 before taking their first lead, 57-56, on Collison's layup with 8:28 left in the third quarter.

Notes: By season's end, Livingston will have missed all but 99 of a possible 246 games since being selected by the Clippers with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft out of high school. Dr. Tony Daly, in his 24th year as the Clippers' team physician, took the conservative approach when asked if Livingston's three-year injury jinx could be due to the possibility that the 21-year-old guard is brittle. "I don't know,'' the doctor said. "We've never found any defect that would allow those things to occur. When he was 17 or 18, some people said that maybe he wasn't ready for this level. Obviously, it's a faster game in the pros with bigger guys, but he's a real hard worker and he's built up some nice muscles.'' ... Livingston's season-ending injury was so extensive and complicated, Daly brought a model of a human knee with him to the arena and explained all the intricacies of it during a pregame press conference.

Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited