LOS ANGELES — On the last leg of a four-game trip, on the second end of back-to-back games against one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Washington Wizards were going to need a lot to work in their favor if they were going to leave Staples Center with a win over the surging — without Chris Paul, mind you — Los Angeles Clippers. But as the game played out, and legs grew wearier, the free throw differential became more pronounced and the three-pointers continued to clang, the Wizards had to settle for 110-103 loss.
The Wizards have long stopped discussing their struggles in games that could give them a winning record, but Marcin Gortat recently suggested that a curse could be preventing them from climbing over .500. But a curse wasn't to blame for a loss in which they simply had no answer for the steadily improving Blake Griffin, notoriously terrible free throw shooter DeAndre Jordan couldn’t miss from the foul line in the closing minutes, and J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford took turns making ridiculous shots.
“I feel like we let two get away,” Trevor Ariza said. “I guess when you split, that’s good on the road, but you’ve got to be greedy, especially in this league. Because you never know, certain losses come back and bite you.”
Bradley Beal scored a team-high 20 points and John Wall had his 16th double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 assists, but he also went scoreless in the fourth quarter with just one shot attempt. Wall has won against the Clippers in his career, but he has never beaten Griffin. When Wall claimed his lone win against the Clippers last season, Griffin sat with a knee bruise.
Griffin has expanded his game to become a more well-rounded offensive player, but he continues to punish the rim with authority. The Wizards tried different defenders on Griffin (game-high 29 points), but he used them all as crash-test dummies, bouncing and spinning off of them on his drives to the basket, or stepping out to drain a few jumpers.
When the Wizards faced the Clippers two months ago, Chris Paul demoralized them with 38 points — on 14 shots — and 12 assists. Paul is currently sidelined with a separated shoulder, but that hasn't slowed the Clippers much, especially with a speedster in Darren Collison filling in admirably and Griffin playing at the highest level of his career. Collison had 16 points and nine assists as the Clippers improved to 11-3 with Paul on the shelf. They were also playing their first game at home after a seven-game road trip.
“It was the best opportunity, especially when they had their leader, the head of the snake, Chris Paul out,” Wall said. “That lets you know how great and not just one dimensional their team is.”
Sixth-man extraordinaire Crawford scored 21 points despite making just four field goals. Crawford used his craftiness to coerce the Wizards into fouling him on two three-point attempts and showed incredible range in drilling shots from 29 feet and 33 feet. Redick added 20 points and made three three-pointers to match the Wizards’ output from long range.
Washington shot 51.1 percent from the field but missed 19 of their 22 attempts from beyond the three-point line. Backup guard Martell Webster was the only Wizard to make a three-pointer.
“We was bad from the three-point line,” said Ariza, who scored 13 points but was 0 for 6 from beyond the arc. “But we’re going to continue to work on them, continue to shoot them, stay confident when we shoot them, that’s a part of the game.”
For the second night in a row, Beal entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter and quickly ignited a rally as the Wizards cut a seven-point lead down to 83-82 with a driving layup. Beal scored 10 points in the period, but had to sit as he sticks to his 30-minute time limit.
“I was caught in that dilemma again,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “He was hot as a firecracker and I had to sit him. You hate to have to take a guy out when he’s on fire. I decided to take him out, so that we could have him at the end.”
They were within 100-97 when Kevin Seraphin made a dunk, but Collison made a layup and the Wizards lost all momentum through a strategy of intentionally fouling Jordan. Jordan, a 40.5 percent free throw shooter, made all four of his attempts in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds. The Clippers wound up attempting 42 free throws, making 32, compared with just 17 attempts for the Wizards.
“That was my decision and hey, give the kid credit,” Wittman said. “Stepped up and made them. That was my coach’s decision that didn’t work out.”
During Jordan’s free throw parade, the Wizards were unable to craft a response and Beal, a more accurate shooter, missed two free throws. “I can’t use the fact that I had to come out as an excuse,” Beal said. “It’s always tough on the second end of a back to back, but we still had a chance to win this game. We put ourselves in a great position. We just didn’t have ‘it’ at the end of the game.”
The Clippers led 62-51 at halftime and had a resounding 27-9 advantage in the free throw department in the first two quarters. Crawford alone had one fewer attempt from the foul line than the Wizards. The free throw numbers were somewhat inflated because the Wizards hacked Jordan, who missed his first four attempts from the foul line, but the lack of calls in their favor irked Gortat.
After Nene picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, Gortat came to his defense and picked up a technical foul for complaining. Nene declined to comment after finishing with 14 points.
“It was tough back to back but I was proud of them,” Wittman said. “They fought all the way to the end.”
The Wizards will return home on Saturday to host District native and most valuable player candidate Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who overcame an early 18-point deficit to blister the Heat in Miami on Tuesday night.