Clippers are a little too cavalier with ball in loss

Times Staff Writer

So much for the momentum of the trip.

The Clippers were encouraged about their performance in winning the final two games on a 10-day trip, hoping they had finally turned a corner in a disappointing season for them to this point.

But their path remained bumpy Saturday night in a 104-92 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a sellout crowd of 20,027 at Staples Center.

"We made bad decisions with the ball, turnovers that led to fastbreaks," said Coach Mike Dunleavy, whose team committed 16 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Cavaliers.

"They were plays that directly led to easy scores for them. We've got to be more disciplined with the basketball. That's something we've been fighting all year long."

The Clippers didn't appear to be the same team that finished a 3-3 trip with victories over New Orleans and Minnesota. They struggled in the second half Saturday in their first game at Staples since a Dec. 31 win over the New York Knicks.

The Clippers, who had won three straight on their home court, seemed to lose focus after taking a 48-47 halftime lead.

They were several steps behind the Cavaliers, who led by 20 points in the fourth quarter, prompting many fans in the fourth sellout crowd this season to vent displeasure by booing and leaving early.

Although the Clippers didn't provide much of a show, LeBron James' act was as hot as ever.

Cleveland's All-Star forward scored a game-high 28 points, grabbed six rebounds and had six assists. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 20 points and point guard Eric Snow, who averages 4.5 points, scored 18 to help the Cavaliers overcome the loss of guard Larry Hughes, who sat out because of a leg injury.

Corey Maggette scored 22 points for the Clippers, Chris Kaman had 20 points and nine rebounds and Elton Brand had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The Clippers dropped to 17-20, and the Cavaliers, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference, improved to 23-13.

Meanwhile, the education of Shaun Livingston continued.

Livingston struggled in the last three games of the trip, missing 24 of 30 shots from the field, although he did average six assists in those games.

On Saturday, Livingston was largely ineffective again, scoring only seven points with six assists in 34 minutes. He had only four field-goal attempts, making two.

Sam Cassell, who played a key role in the team's trip-closing victories, had an off night with only nine points and six assists.

Livingston and Cassell started together for the second time in as many games and their first time on the team's home court.

With the exception of Saturday's game, the offense, often stagnant while Cassell sat out because of a heel injury, has been more productive with both point guards on the court.

Cassell's ability to get to his favorite spots on the court and make midrange jump shots makes things easier on others. Livingston, at this stage of his career, is not a consistent shooter or scorer, which has contributed to the problems on offense.

But Livingston says he is trying to improve.

"I'm working on it," he said. "When you look at good teams around the league, who do you look at? You look at the point guard. I want to be one of those guys who makes a difference."

Not surprisingly, Cassell, in his 14th season, has more leeway than Livingston, in his third season, to direct the team and freelance within the offense. Dunleavy is considered a hands-on coach, and it seems his hands are most active when Livingston is on the court.

"Obviously, his calls are going to overrule anything I call," Livingston said. "Usually, I try to get him to put his trust in me to call some plays, especially in transition, but it comes with years of experience."

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jason.reid@latimes.com

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KEYS TO THE GAME

* The star factor. The Clippers don't have anyone to equal Cleveland's LeBron James, who had 28 points, six rebounds and six assists.

* Scoring off turnovers. The Clippers committed 16 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Cavaliers. They scored only 14 points off Cleveland's turnovers.

* Shaun Livingston's lack of production. Seven points and only four field-goal attempts isn't enough from the 6-foot-7 point guard.

--JASON REID

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