LOS ANGELES, March 25 -- The Washington Wizards' five-game Western Conference trip began with an embarrassing loss in Denver, followed by guard Larry Hughes expressing his frustration with the team's offense and Coach Eddie Jordan's desire to become more of a low post team.
The Wizards barely escaped with a win in Utah on Thursday, but it obviously didn't end the team's internal strife as starters Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown got into a heated exchange on the bench during the third quarter of Washington's 98-94 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
Brendan Haywood, left, fouls Elton Brand as the Wizards fall to the Clippers, 98-94. It wasn't a great night for Haywood, who injured his thumb in the game.
(Mark J. Terrill - AP)
LOS ANGELES, March 25 -- Since all-star forward Antawn Jamison went down with right knee tendinitis, back-court mates Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes have provided the bulk of the Wizards' offense. Entering the Wizards' game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, Arenas and Hughes combined to take 48.7 percent of the team's shots (184 for 398) and scored 48.2 percent of the points (237 of 491) in the past five games. After the Wizards' 85-84 win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday -- when Arenas and Hughes combined to score 54 points and took 44 of the team's 66 shots -- Arenas said his teammates have no problem with them carrying the offensive load.
"The team has confidence in us," Arenas said. "They know what we can do so they just stay out of our way. If they get the ball, they get the ball. If they don't, they fight for it. They're going to rebound, back-cut. We're going to give them a bone here and there, but we're going to do most of the scoring."
Meantime, Arenas said Jamison shouldn't rush to get back before he is ready. "If you come back too early and [get hurt again], now we have to wait a little bit longer," he said. . . .
Friday night, the Wizards were introduced to Clippers 6-foot-7 rookie point guard Shaun Livingston, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson for his court vision and playmaking ability. Livingston, the fourth pick in last summer's draft out of Peoria (Ill.) High, has missed 52 games this season because of a dislocated right patella and torn cartilage in his right shoulder, but handed out a career-high 11 assists in his first career start in the Clippers' win against Milwaukee on Wednesday.
"Everyone recognizes that he has the potential to be a great player. He's definitely what we need," Clippers forward Corey Maggette said.
Livingston originally committed to play at Duke, but he has no regrets -- especially after his injury-plagued rookie season. "I probably could've missed all of my freshman year instead of missing a couple of games," said Livingston, who is averaging 5.4 and 3.8 assists. "Bottom line, the money is a factor that plays into [the decision to go pro], but I want to play. I want to be on the court, whether it was in college or the NBA, and that was the biggest thing I was missing, rather than the money."
-- Michael Lee
No punches were thrown -- only harsh words were traded -- but the Wizards coaching staff felt compelled to separate the 7-footers with their largest player; moving 7-foot-3 rookie center Peter John Ramos from his seat behind the bench to sit between the two and maintain peace. Asked about the incident after the game, Jordan said, "That's L.A. Confidential."
While the Wizards wanted to keep the situation under wraps, they also weren't forthcoming about the status of Haywood, who left the game with 33 seconds left holding his left thumb in obvious pain. Sources confirmed that Haywood was X-rayed after the game, but the Wizards wouldn't release his condition. "When I know I'll let you know something," Haywood said, wincing in pain as he dressed himself. "It hurts bad. That's all I know now."
The Wizards haven't always been upfront with injuries this season. When Larry Hughes broke his right thumb against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 15, it was initially explained as a "jammed thumb," although there was speculation that night that he had indeed broken it. It wasn't disclosed until a day later that Hughes would miss the next six weeks because of the injury.
This delayed practice isn't the norm. Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko fractured his left wrist almost two minutes into the Wizards' 85-84 win Thursday and before the end of the first quarter, it was revealed that Kirilenko would miss the rest of the season. The Wizards are expected to announce the severity of Haywood's injury today.
"I challenged somebody's shot and I had my legs taken out from underneath me and it got jammed up against somebody's body or shoe," Haywood said. "I don't know, it just hit something hard."
Haywood almost came to blows with Brown with 4:01 left in the third quarter. Brown and Haywood were benched after a blown assignment that led to a dunk by the Clippers' Elton Brand (25 points, 10 rebounds). As they sat on the bench, Brown and Haywood began chirping at each other until Haywood screamed "Okay! Okay!" and stood up, glaring at Brown.
Haywood had to be restrained by guard Laron Profit. Brown kept yelling and pointing toward Haywood until Wizards assistant coach Phil Hubbard and forward Antawn Jamison, who is on the injured list with right knee tendinitis, placed their hands on Brown to calm him down.
The situation was finally diffused when the Wizards placed Ramos next to Brown, keeping Haywood out of Brown's vision during their time on the bench and timeouts. Brown returned to the floor to start the fourth quarter but Haywood sat until 3:36 left in the game. He replaced Brown but the two didn't look at each other -- let alone slap hands as they swapped places.
"Cooler heads simply didn't prevail," Haywood said. "I think we're both competitors and were frustrated about how the game was going and we both were way out of line with what we said to each other. It shouldn't happen and it won't happen again."
Brown left the locker room before reporters arrived and wasn't available for comment.
Aside from the flareup between Haywood and Brown, the Wizards didn't show much fight until they fell behind by 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Wizards staged a frantic comeback in the final minutes and were within 92-91 when Profit (seven points) hit a three-pointer with 27 seconds left.
But Brand answered with a layup and Corey Maggette (26 points) added two free throws to give the Clippers their first win against the Wizards in six games.
"We didn't play winning basketball," Hughes said after scoring 21 points. "We just have to look in the mirror and do better. We have to play playoff basketball."
Point guard Gilbert Arenas had 33 points to lead the Wizards (37-30), who have lost 11 of their past 14 games on the road, and currently hold just a one-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards resume their trip Sunday in Seattle.