WASHINGTON — The Los Angeles Clippers are short-handed, but they are not pushovers these days. Their next opponent knows that firsthand.
The Clippers (11-15) and Wizards meet for the second time in less than a week with Friday’s meeting in Washington. Los Angeles won a 113-112 thriller on Saturday and turned the momentum into a three-game winning streak. After stunning the Toronto Raptors 96-91 on Monday, the Clippers opened a four-game road swing with a 106-95 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
“We’re just playing hard,” coach Doc Rivers said after the surging Clippers’ latest victory without star forward Blake Griffin and point guard Patrick Beverley. “We don’t have the luxury of talent, where we can where we can out-talent the other teams. We’re just going to go out and play harder than the other team.”
John Wall’s return helped Washington (15-13) snap a two-game losing streak with Thursday’s 93-87 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wizards once again struggled against a team with a losing record. Washington let a 17-point lead slip away before eventually putting away the Grizzlies in the final minutes.
Wall missed nine games after receiving injections in his left knee to relieve inflammation. He had 13 points in 28 minutes in his first game since Nov. 22, but went 0-for-4 from the free throw line. The four-time All-Star chose his spots rather than race the court with his usual breakneck pace, but he dazzled the crowd with a power dunk and by blocking a Chandler Parsons dunk attempt inside the final two minutes.
“I think it was cool,” Wall said of his performance. “Other than my four missed free throws, I think it was pretty cool. Other than that, for my first game being back and the most important thing is we got the win so that was key.”
Bradley Beal scored 18 points and sank three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for the Wizards, who played without starting forward Markieff Morris (hip, ankle) and reserve center Ian Mahinmi (knee).
Los Angeles guard Lou Williams dazzled against Orlando with 31 points two games after he dropped 35 versus Washington. His pull-up 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds put the Clippers in front after the Wizards seemingly had the game in control with a four-point lead and two free throws pending with 51 seconds remaining.
Griffin (MCL sprain) remains sidelined for several more weeks while Beverley (microfracture knee surgery) is out for the season. Starting forward Danilo Gallinari missed the previous two games with a glute injury and third-leading scorer Austin Rivers will not face the Wizards after suffering a concussion against the Magic.
“When you are loaded with talent, you can just rely on that talent to win, but we don’t have that anymore,” Williams said. “When your talent goes down, everyone else has to step it up and win that way. That’s what we’re doing now. You outhustle your opponent.”
Washington received energy from its bench during Wall’s absence while the starting lineup struggled outside of Beal’s scoring. That led to several uneven performances and late game issues.
“It’s a little bit all over the place,” Beal said of Washington’s recent stretch. “But I think it’s fair to say now that we got our guys back, we got John back. His presence is key for us moving forward. We just have to do better coming out and getting off to great starts. We know John will work back into his rhythm. As starters, we got to be a lot better. We got to bring our ‘A’ game. We got to be mentally focused from the start.”