It turns out things can get worse for the Clippers.
A game against the Washington Wizards should have been a reprieve from a slow start to their eight-game road trip, but it only prolonged their miserable stretch.
They played without All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who spent the game on the bench next to injured starters Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. You can guess what happened.
They lost their third game in a row and seventh in nine games, falling to the Wizards, 98-90, at Verizon Center. The defeat left them with a 1-3 record on their Grammy trip, which continues Wednesday night in Orlando.
Griffin’s streak of consecutive games played ended at 197 when he pulled himself out of the lineup, complaining of a strained left hamstring. Griffin said he probably hurt it Sunday in Boston, but he didn’t believe it was serious enough to keep him out.
In pregame warm-ups, however, he seemed to be favoring his leg, finally deciding just before tipoff that he should sit out the game.
“We were walking out, he was walking in,” coach Vinny Del Negro said in explaining how and when he learned that Griffin was a scratch.
Del Negro said it was important to think of the big picture, that losing Griffin for one game (or a few) is better than losing him for an extended period if he tried to play and aggravated the injury. The Clippers are still hopeful that Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Billups (tendinitis, left foot) will return soon, and it’s possible Billups could be on the court as soon as Wednesday against the Magic.
But it’s clear that without their two best players, who account for 35 points a game, the Clippers are losing all the momentum they had created following a 25-6 start through December. But they’re only 9-10 since the new year and are 5-6 with Paul out of the lineup.
“It’s frustrating because we’re giving back a lot of what we had built up early in the season,” Del Negro told reporters. “But you can’t control the injuries, you can’t control the schedule, you can’t control so many guys being out. But we can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to play the games, we’ve got to play hard.”
Just as in Boston on Sunday, the Clippers victimized themselves. They committed 20 turnovers against the Wizards after making 21 against the Celtics. They fell behind 19-9 in the opening period and struggled defensively, allowing Washington – which ranks last in the league in field-goal percentage, to make 9 of its first 11 shots.
That forced them to play catch-up, just as they did against the Celtics and the Toronto Raptors on Friday. And although they took a 63-60 lead with 4 minutes 48 seconds left in the third quarter, rattling off a 17-2 spurt, they quickly gave it back.
Jamal Crawford had a game-high 28 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with a career-best 22 rebounds, but the missing parts and turnovers turned the night into another futile struggle.
“You’ve got to stick with it,” Jordan said. “We have a couple of guys down, but that’s not an excuse. We still have a very talented team. We just didn’t make shots and we turned the ball over too much, which led to a lot of fast-break points for those guys. When you turn it over against a team like that, you’re not going to win.”
Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul and facing his former Kentucky teammate, John Wall, had an exemplary game, finishing with 17 points and 9 assists compared to 13 points and 8 assists for Wall. But Wall made two decisive back-to-back baskets, the second with 2:27 left that pushed the Wizards’ lead to 10 points, 91-81.
Griffin is listed as day-to-day, which is another way of saying the Clippers have no idea how soon he’ll be back. Hamstring injuries can be delicate, and trying to play too soon could knock him out for a longer period.
The Clippers need him, just as they need Paul and Billups, but they also want to give him time, even if it means their struggles continue.