Clippers 102, Wizards 97
Prior to last night's game, several Washington Wizards players, as well as Coach Eddie Jordan, offered up a warning that the team wearing red on the other bench was not the same old Los Angeles Clippers -- a franchise that has defined ineptitude for decades. With additions Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley joining talented players such as Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, the Clippers resemble the Wizards of 2004-05, an overlooked squad that appears to be in the process of overturning its reputation as a perennial loser.
That's certainly how things looked to an MCI Center crowd of 13,736 as the Clippers (4-1) handed the Wizards (3-1) their first loss of the season, 102-97.
The Wizards dropped to 1-1 at home and squandered a chance to stay with the Detroit Pistons (4-0) as the NBA's only undefeated teams because they were out-hustled, out-executed and, in the words of Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, outsmarted down the stretch of a game they could have won.
"I hate making excuses," said Jamison, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and missed both of his fourth-quarter shots. "Tonight, flat out, we didn't play smart basketball. The most important thing was, we didn't defend at all. No talking. No communicating. The bottom line is, they shot 50 percent and two of their guys scored half their points."
Sound familiar? On this night, it was the Los Angeles combination of Brand (31 points, 13 rebounds) and Maggette (20 points, 10 of them in the fourth quarter) that carried a team to victory rather than Washington's all-star tandem of Jamison and Gilbert Arenas (a combined 30 points on 9-of-34 shooting).
The Wizards led 97-96 after Caron Butler made a 16-foot baseline jumper with 1 minute 1 second remaining, but the Clippers went ahead when Mobley sneaked in the lane and tipped in Quinton Ross's miss. With 23 seconds remaining, Wizards guard Chucky Atkins missed an open shot from the baseline, and Maggette sank a pair of free throws on the other end. In four games Atkins has hit 4 of 22 shots and only 1 of 13 three-point attempts, but Jordan said he was comfortable with Atkins taking that shot.
"It was a wide-open shot," Jordan said. "I didn't mind it. If it wasn't there, we had two or three other options, but Chucky is a veteran. He's a guy that can make a shot. I'm not concerned about the missed shot. I'm concerned about not defending the right way and not rebounding the right way coming down the stretch."
Despite shooting 37 percent and making 4 of 17 three-point attempts, the Wizards had a chance to force overtime after Maggette's free throws. Arenas passed up a contested three-point shot from the top of the key and drove to his left. However, as he appeared ready to take a mid-range jumper, Arenas slipped, bobbled the ball and was called for a double dribble with 16 seconds remaining.
"Once he was overplaying me, I was going to go for a two and maybe get some contact and a foul," Arenas said. "It was still a one-possession game. But the ref made the call he made and that's how it goes sometimes."
Arenas finished with 18 points and a team-high 10 assists but made only 5 of 21 shots and was burned defensively when his attempt at jumping into a passing lane for a steal instead led to Maggette's open jumper at the 1:16 mark.
Defensive lapses by the Wizards and sound decisions by the Los Angeles veterans allowed the Clippers to shoot 50 percent. It was the first time this season the Wizards allowed an opponent to shoot better than 40 percent.
Butler, who missed the previous two games with a left thigh bruise, came off the bench to score 19 points. Center Etan Thomas, who scored two points in the first three games, had 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.
"We just didn't make the plays coming down the stretch," Jordan said. "We didn't play with the energy and the cohesiveness that we needed to have to win this game. I just didn't see a whole lot of energy and positive emotions -- maybe one or two guys but not as a team. That concerns me more than anything. It's a very disappointing loss."
Wizards Notes: Guard Jarvis Hayes, who started in place of the injured Antonio Daniels (left ankle sprain), left the game after getting hit on the head with 35 seconds remaining. After the game said he was fine. . . . Rookie guard Donell Taylor received his first regular season action, playing three first-half minutes.