THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — The Los Angeles Clippers were missing Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Washington Wizards won the game.
Tread carefully around Randy Wittman when trying to connect those two thoughts.
"Hey, listen, we played enough games this year without players," the Wizards coach said. "Don’t give me the (bull) about who was here and who wasn’t here. … You guys would have printed it a wholly different other way if we had lost. … Now you’re going to print, ‘Ah, you won because Blake didn’t play.’ Give me a break."
To be fair, the outburst was more playful than angry, but the point is well-taken. The Wizards will happily take Monday night’s 98-90 win — or any victory for that matter — in a season that was essentially wrecked from the get-go in part because of injuries to John Wall and Nene.
Now it’s the Clippers who are close to falling off the rails, having lost seven of nine — including six of eight without Paul. Los Angeles is 1-3 halfway through an eight-game road trip and has fallen 4 1/2 games off the Western Conference lead.
"It’s frustrating because we’re giving back a lot of what we had built up earlier in the season," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "But you can’t control the injuries, you can’t control the schedule, you can’t control so many guys being out."
Paul missed his eighth consecutive game and 11th of the last 13 with a bruised right kneecap, while Griffin’s streak of 197 consecutive games played ended when he was a last-minute scratch with a strained left hamstring.
"We were walking out (to the court) and he was walking in," Del Negro said.
Del Negro said he knew the hamstring had been bothering Griffin, who leads the Clippers in scoring and rebounding with 18.5 points and 8.6 boards per game. The coach declined to speculate when Griffin would return. The road trip continues against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
"We’ll see how he feels tomorrow," Del Negro said.
Griffin had started every game since he essentially became an NBA player at the start of the 2010 season, having sat out in 2009-10 with a knee injury after he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Clippers.
Nevertheless, his teammates were in the game until a spate of turnovers and a pair of offensive rebounds by Wizards forward Nene spurred a 7-0 run by Washington late in the fourth quarter.
"When you’re a championship-level team, you have high expectations," said Jamal Crawford, who scored 28 points to lead the Clippers. "And we do, no matter who’s in and who’s out. Obviously we’re missing some of our better players, but no excuse."
Martell Webster scored 21 points, Nene and Garrett Temple had 15 points apiece, Emeka Okafor grabbed 14 rebounds, and Wall had 13 points and eight assists for the Wizards, who broke a four-game losing streak and moved a game ahead of the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats.
DeAndre Jordan had a career-high 22 rebounds for the Clippers. Eric Bledsoe, going toe-to-toe with Wall in a duel between former Kentucky teammates, had 17 points and nine assists.
The game turned when Nene grabbed a high-bouncing rebound off of his own missed free throw to set up a 3-pointer by Trevor Ariza, then corralled another offensive board on the next possession and fed Temple for a jump shot that gave the Wizards an 87-79 lead with 3:53 remaining.
Still, the finish was too close for comfort for Wittman, especially after the Wizards had scored 51 points in the first half.
"It wasn’t all artistic for us," Wittman said. "We still had ups and downs from an offensive standpoint. … We seem to forget how we scored the 51. If my forehead’s red, (it’s from) banging the wall."
Notes: The Clippers committed eight of their 20 turnovers in the fourth quarter. … Griffin’s consecutive games streak was tied for second with Houston Rockets centre Omer Asik among active players. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook played in his 360th straight game Monday night. … The Wizards snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Clippers. … Washington played its fourth consecutive game without rookie G Bradley Beal (sprained right wrist). … Del Negro said he hopes to have both Paul and Chauncey Billups (left foot) back before the end of the road trip. He said Billups is on pace to return before Paul. "That’s the plan right now," Del Negro said. "But a lot of the plans haven’t worked out the way we wanted with some of the injuries."