Things have been bad for the Los Angeles Clippers lately. They've had to play without the aid of their superstar point guard Chris Paul in 10 of their last 12 games (and with Paul limited in the other two), and as a result had lost six of eight heading into Monday night's game in Washington. But if you've been a Clipper fan long enough, there's one immutable law you know very well -- it can always get worse.
Prior to tip off in Washington, it got worse, when Blake Griffin was scratched from the lineup with a pulled hamstring muscle. So Paul and Griffin may be starting in the All Star game in two weeks, but they aren't starting (or even playing) for the Clippers right now.
Missing two All Stars and three starters (including Chauncey Billups) the Clippers were in the game all night, and trailed by two coming out of a time out with a bit over five minutes remaining. Playing with a makeshift lineup, they nonetheless had Jamal Crawford in the midst of a big game, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler playing well, and DeAndre Jordan setting a career high in rebounding. Some decent execution down the stretch and they could certainly beat an 11 win Wizards team.
But the only execution in the final five minutes was the execution-style killing of any hope they had to win. On a possession I still haven't figured out, Bledose dribbled directly into a double team and lost the ball out of bounds. On the next trip Grant Hill threw a pass away. On the next one Crawford threw a pass away. A few possessions later Bledsoe threw another pass away. Over the course of six possessions covering about three minutes, the Clippers turned the ball over four times and were outscored 11-2. As if the turnovers weren't enough, they also allowed the Wizards two offensive rebounds in that stretch. In those three minutes, the Wizards took seven shots and two free throws, while the Clippers managed just two shots. When your opponent is getting four times as many chances to score, you're not going to win.
With Paul and Griffin out, it's an opportunity for other guys to step up, which could yield some positive byproducts even in losses. Crawford was terrific, despite the fact that Trevor Ariza defended him as well as anyone has all season. Crawford finished with 28 points on 10-20 shooting. Bledsoe had his second straight solid game, going for 17 points and 9 assists, and most outplayed his more celebrated former teammate John Wall, though his 4 turnovers definitely hurt. Jordan was a beast on the boards, grabbing fully half of the rebounds the team got, a career high 22 in all. But on the other hand, Lamar Odom, in his first start of the season, was a non-factor when the Clippers really needed him to provide some of the scoring they lost without Griffin. Instead Lamar finished with more turnovers (5) than points (3) in a fairly dreadful 31 minutes.
If you haven't picked up on it yet, turnovers were a huge problem for the Clippers, who finished with 20 for the second game in a row. It's not really surprising that they have lost both of those games. Obviously losing the sure-handed floor general Paul is going to result in more turnovers, but at the same time the team's margin for error is razor thin without Paul, so being sloppy with the ball is almost certainly going to cost them wins.
It certainly didn't help the cause that Martell Webster hit 5-6 of his three pointers and the Wizards as a team were 7-12 from deep. It's the second game in a row in which a team making about a third of their threes on the season has made well over half of their threes against the Clippers.
But of course the misery of losing to the Wizards is temporary -- the bigger question is how long will Griffin be out. Hamstrings are notoriously finicky, and if Griffin felt compelled to sit out this game, it's almost unimaginable, even with modern treatment techniques, that he won't be out for a week or more. Then again, as a big fan of the Phoenix Suns of the early 80s, I have the excess baggage of having watched my favorite player lose his explosiveness when Kevin Johnson suffered a series of hamstring injuries from which he never fully recovered. The Clippers have classified Griffin as day-to-day with the injury, but I'll be shocked if he plays on Wednesday in Orlando.
I wonder if the NBA will fine the Clippers if neither Griffin nor Paul can play in the ABC game against the Knicks on Sunday, because that's looking like a real possibility.
For the Wizards perspective, visit Bullets Forever.