LOS ANGELES — Nick Young was back in his home town, hoping to return and play in an arena where he usually has success, but after testing his injured left knee, he became a nattily dressed spectator in a cream sport coat, gray vest and matching pocket square. Andray Blatche was back home in Washington, offering words of encouragement to his teammates on Twitter, and the Washington Wizards were down to just 10 healthy players, again, after Cartier Martin sprained his right ankle the night before.
When they arrived at Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Clippers, less than 24 hours after absorbing their worst defeat of the season in Portland, the Wizards appeared to be in a dreadful predicament. And they got off to an awful start against the Clippers, trailing by nine less than three minutes into the game and forcing Coach Flip Saunders to call a quick timeout.
But the Wizards offered a hint, shortly thereafter, that they wouldn’t have a repeat of that embarrassing 35-point loss to the Trail Blazers, when Clippers rookie sensation Blake Griffin came in for a layup and JaVale McGee slapped the ball about 30 feet into the third row. By the end of a long night, the Wizards had lost, 127-119, in double overtime, and impressed Saunders with their ability to respond after a miserable opener in this five-game trip.
“You get beat by 35, you have a back-to-back, you get in late, and they came out and competed,” Saunders said after the Wizards (17-53) dropped to 1-33 on the road this season. “I’m disappointed we weren’t able to come up with a win. But, as I said to them all along, it’s just about going out and competing.”
Saunders only used nine players against the Clippers, with McGee, Jordan Crawford and John Wall all playing more than 50 of the 58 minutes Wednesday. Rookies Crawford and Wall combined for 57 points, 20 assists and 12 rebounds and both had to overcome some individual struggles to put the Wizards in a position to nearly get their second road win of the season. They will have another opportunity on Friday, when they face the new-look Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center.
After missing 12 of 15 shots in Portland, Crawford started out off-target again as he missed his first seven shots against the Clippers, showing some fatigue early as he hit the front rim on nearly every attempt. But he found a way to stay on the floor by handing out assists and later found an offensive rhythm in the third period, when he scored 13 of his 25 points.
“I can’t go out and have a bad game against Portland and have another one,” Crawford said. “I had to bounce back. I tried to do all I can to win and I fell short.”
Wall set a new career high with 32 points despite having a scare in the fourth quarter, when he made a layup and immediately started grimacing as he landed. Wall tried to play through the pain in his right knee, but he eventually was given a rest so that athletic trainer Corey Bennett could apply some ointment to the knee.
“I just came off the screen and my knee just buckled on me one play. I was nervous for a second, but it wasn’t nothing serious,” Wall said.
When he finally returned, Wall forced overtime with a driving, floating layup with 14.6 seconds left in regulation. He also had a chance to secure the win in overtime but missed a free throw with 7.4 seconds remaining, setting up Eric Gordon, who hit a tying three-pointer.
“We did everything we had to do,” Wall said. “We fought hard, but down the stretch, I missed my free throw that could’ve put us up four. Even with fatigue, we was right there in the game. I need to work on becoming a better leader and closing out games. But this shows if we play with some heart and play together, we can be in games.”