Washington Wizards lose fifth in a row, dropping one to the L.A. Clippers, 97-95

Antawn Jamison scored 32 points for the Wizards, but it wasn't enough.
Antawn Jamison scored 32 points for the Wizards, but it wasn't enough. (Gus Ruelas/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- The Washington Wizards arrived in Los Angeles hopeful that being on another coast, in another time zone, would help them put aside their worries after four consecutive close losses. Gilbert Arenas, a Los Angeles native, said he thought the four-game trip would be good to help him get over the "pressure" of playing at Verizon Center, where he missed two free throws in the final seconds of each of their past two losses against Boston and Indiana.

Really, all the Wizards needed was to play the Los Angeles Clippers -- or so they thought. But after taking a 17-point lead in the second half, the Wizards did everything they could to bring the Clippers back into the game -- with costly turnovers, silly fouls and several defensive breakdowns -- until they eventually succumbed in a 97-95 loss at Staples Center.

"The positive is, we're in games. The negative is, we're not winning them," Coach Flip Saunders said after his team lost its fifth game in a row, by a combined 11 points.

Saunders said his team keeps "inventing ways to lose" after it dropped a heartbreaking defeat to Indiana on Saturday -- when Arenas missed two free throws and officials used instant replay to determine that Brendan Haywood had fouled Indiana's Mike Dunleavy Jr. with 0.1 of a second remaining, setting up the deciding free throws in a 114-113 defeat. But his team found another way to go out in deflating fashion, rallying back from an eight-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining to close within one point, only to fail to get off a final shot.

Arenas, though, didn't fail to deliver in the clutch for the Wizards this time. He wasn't even on the court after fouling out with 2 minutes 51 seconds remaining. He finished with 16 points, but he was just 4 of 14 from the floor.

"It's hard because if this was before and I was in my old form, these are games that we would be pulling out -- but I'm not," Arenas said, looking despondent by his locker room stall. "I haven't played this game in two years. I'm just, to be honest, happy to be out there, having a chance to play again. In the meantime, it's still a learning process for me. I'm learning referees. I'm learning spots, learning moves again."

Antawn Jamison did his best to carry the Wizards, as he scored a team-high 32 points to go with 11 rebounds, but he couldn't find anyone who was willing to go along for the ride until Caron Butler picked up the scoring slack, scoring nine of the Wizards' final 11 points, including a three-pointer that brought them within 96-95 with 11.8 seconds remaining.

Second-year guard Eric Gordon led the Clippers with 29 points but he missed 1 of 2 free throws shortly after Butler's three-pointer. With no timeouts remaining, reserve point guard Earl Boykins -- playing only because Arenas was sidelined -- dribbled the ball off of his leg for the team's 19th turnover of the game. Boykins said he was trying to feed Haywood (12 points, 12 rebounds) inside but "I just lost the ball, it was just that simple. Whenever you lose a one possession game, there is a possession in the game that leads to that. Tonight, we played good, but we didn't play well enough to win."

It was a truly up-and-down from two inconsistent teams struggling to find their identities and live up to relatively high expectations. Both teams were careless with the ball, as they combined for 39 turnovers.

The Wizards opened the third quarter on fire, as they made seven of their first eight shots from the floor and led 64-47 when Butler hit a pull-up jumper with 6:45 left in the third period. Jamison then hit an open three-pointer to put the Wizards ahead by 16, but they finished the period in the opposite fashion of how they started it. The Wizards hit a serious lull with five missed jumpers and three turnovers and took advantage by scoring the next 13 points.

Dominic McGuire ended an almost five-minute scoring drought when he caught a pass from Young and dunked to put the Wizards up by five. But at the end of the third period, Brian Skinner rebounded a Boykins miss and threw an outlet pass to Baron Davis, who raced up the floor and launched a desperation heave from just beyond the three-point line. The Wizards were unable to escape the period unscathed, as Boykins fouled Davis on the shot, allowing him to make three free throws and whittle the lead down to two points.

The Clippers, coming off a 25-point loss to the San Antonion Spurs on Sunday, scored the first four points of the fourth period and took a 71-69 lead when Chris Kaman (23 points, 11 rebounds) spun inside and hit a difficult shot in the lane. The Wizards appeared to regain control when they scored the next nine points, with Andray Blatche stealing the ball from Skinner and dribbling up the court to convert a three-point play, benefiting from a friendly roll on a layup attempt.

But the Clippers quickly got back into the game, taking the lead for good when Kaman made back-to-back layups to put his team ahead 85-82.

"When you've got your foot on a team's throat, you got to go ahead and finish them off. We were up 16, 17, we got to go ahead and turn that into 20, 21 and then coast in the fourth quarter," Haywood said. "The problem was, that third quarter, the end of the third quarter, we let them get their confidence going and that basically rolled over into the fourth quarter. It's time to stop fighting from behind and doing the right things when we have the lead."

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