Playing without two starters is hard enough. Now the struggling New York Knicks will be without point guard Stephon Marbury for an undetermined amount of time.

The Knicks figure to be without leading scorer Zach Randolph and Marbury again on Wednesday night when they continue a four-game road trip with a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

Controversy seems to follow the Knicks, and their latest incident involves Marbury, who left the team before Tuesday's game at Phoenix. Marbury was absent from the morning shootaround, and failed to show up for the game.

Coach Isiah Thomas would only confirm Marbury had left and that the guard will be welcome if and when he chooses to return.

"That is an in-house matter, and we'll continue to keep it in-house,'' Thomas said after the shootaround. "However, he is welcome back, and we want him as a member of this team.''

Thomas and Marbury haven't had the best relationship, particularly since Thomas took over the dual role as head coach in addition to team president.

"It seems like he and I go through this every November, then a couple of weeks go by and we kind of kiss and make up, then we go back to the business of trying to win basketball games,'' Thomas said.

Without Marbury, Randolph and Quentin Richardson, the Knicks opened the trip with a 113-102 defeat. Jamal Crawford scored 21 points, Fred Jones added 19 and Nate Robinson had 18 as New York (2-4) lost its third straight overall and remained winless in two road games this season.

Randolph, averaging team highs of 20.3 points and 13.5 rebounds, has missed the last two games following the death of his grandmother and may not play Wednesday. Richardson, meanwhile, sat out with a hyperextended right elbow.

The Knicks also lost Mardy Collins, Marbury's replacement at the point, with a mild sprain of his right foot six minutes into the game.

Minus three starters, New York was forced to play Jones 45 minutes, 37 seconds - his highest total in three years.

Now, New York will try to end an eight-game road losing streak to the Clippers (4-2). The Knicks haven't beaten them at Los Angeles since a 77-76 victory on March 25, 1998, when the Clippers played at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

Los Angeles (4-2) opened this season with four straight wins, but dropped its second in a row Sunday, 103-95 loss to visiting Cleveland.

Sam Cassell scored 28 points to lead the Clippers. Corey Maggette had 25 points and 11 rebounds, the first time this season someone other than Chris Kaman led the team in rebounding.

"If we keep getting this effort, we'll be fine,'' Cassell said. "This was a heck of an effort. I'm mad that we lost, but if we keep playing the way we played tonight, we'll win 70 percent of our games.''

Both of the Clippers' losses have come without guard Cuttino Mobley, who suffered a strained right abductor Nov. 7 in Indiana. Mobley, third on the team in scoring with 18.3 points per game, will miss his third straight game Wednesday.

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy is two victories from tying Jack Ramsay's franchise record of 158 set from 1972-76.


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