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Pistons Will Be a Test of Progress

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers have already proven they are at least the best Western Conference bottom feeder, having beaten Seattle and Golden State. Whether the Clippers can climb a level or two on the conference’s evolutionary ladder won’t be known for some time, but a hint may come tonight when they face the defending champion Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.

“This is the world champions we’re playing,” Clipper forward Corey Maggette said. “That always makes the game big. We just want to get better as a team. Guys are going to have to step up. It’s a big test.”

The Clippers had a pre-exam thus far, which resulted in a 94-81 Portland victory. The Trail Blazers are not expected to be a playoff team.

The Pistons offer a much higher challenge.

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“They are the type of team that you can’t make many mistakes against,” said Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy, whose team turned the ball over 20 times against Golden State on Saturday. “They are an absolutely terrific team. We have to play great defensively and take care of the basketball.”

The Clippers lost both games to the Pistons last season.

“This is definitely an important game for us,” Clipper forward Elton Brand said. “We can see how we’re coming along.”

And how far they need to go.

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Maggette will undergo treatment for back spasms before tonight’s game, which might become a routine. He underwent the same treatment before Saturday’s game.

“I just got to be able to move around,” Maggette said. “Saturday was the best it has felt.”

Maggette was kicked in the right foot Sunday and sat out the last part of practice. It will not keep him out of the lineup tonight. The Clippers are already missing two starters, Chris Kaman and Kerry Kittles.

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“It’s nothing,” Maggette said. “Elton and I are the leaders on this team. We have to play.”

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Kaman, on injured reserved with a sprained left ankle, has begun light agility drills, but is not able to run. Still, he will accompany the team on a three-game road trip this week.

Kaman is eligible to come off the injured reserve list Friday, when the Clippers play the New York Knicks.

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Brand is also banged up. He shot the ball left-handed on a handful of occasions against Golden State. He made six of 18 shots.

“The ball feels uncomfortable in my right hand, like it’s a bubble,” said Brand, who has a bruised index finger on his right hand. “I worked to get better with my left hand all summer, but [the injury] is a big reason I did that [Saturday].”

TONIGHT

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vs. Detroit, 7:30 p.m., FSNW2

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- XTRA (690, 1150).

Records -- Clippers 2-1, Pistons 2-1.

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Record vs. Pistons (2003-04) -- 0-2.

Update -- The Pistons come to town without Coach Larry Brown, who had hip surgery last week.


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