Los Angele Clippers lose to Washington Wizards as Blake Griffin sits: 5 takeaways from tonight’s game


February 4, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) passes the ball as Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and Clippers small forward Matt Barnes (22) defend in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As if the Clippers “Grammy road trip” hasn’t been bad enough, things just got a lot worse after a loss to the lowly Washington Wizards that saw Blake Griffin join Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups on the bench to sit out a game due to a hamstring injury. Without three starters, the Clippers struggled all game long, blowing a chance at pulling out a victory late with a series of turnovers, bad shots, shoddy rebounding, and poor defense. They have now lost three in a row, two to potential lottery teams (Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards) and one to an injury depleted Boston Celtics. Here are five key takeaways from tonight’s game…

No Blake Griffin, no inside game.

Without Blake’s presence down low, the Clippers could barely sniff the paint and were relegated to jump shooting to generate points. The absence of Griffin’s ability to score, rebound, defend, and disrupt allowed Washington to push the ball inside to draw easy looks and the Clippers committed fouls galore to reward them for their efforts. Lamar Odom was pushed around by Nene Hilario (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Emeka Okafor (9 points, 14 rebounds), while Jordan was unable to get free underneath for much damage. It remains to be seen how serious Blake’s hamstring injury will be, but if he’s going to be out for any extended period the Clippers will have to play close to perfect to beat anybody.

Rebounding (read: effort) a problem.

Clippers were constantly out rebounded, with Washington able to keep possessions alive through sheer effort. DeAndre Jordan pulled down a career-high 22 boards, but only 3 offensive, while the Wizards were able to grab 13 offensive rebounds to the Clippers 9, overall. If not for Jordan, the Wizards won the battles when they counted and scored on way too many second chance opportunities.

Eric Bledsoe returns to planet earth.

Bledsoe turned in his finest game only one day earlier against the Boston Celtics; however, on this night he was erratic and committed costly turnovers when the team could least afford them. His shooting numbers, though a decent 7-14 for 17 points, are not indicative of when or where he took them. Too often he was hesitant when openings presented themselves, while simultaneously reckless on others. With the game still within reach, he kicked a ball off his knee out of bounds, then fell down on an ensuing possession and was called for out of bounds that resulted in a score the other way. With Bledsoe under performing and their all-stars still sitting, the Clippers once again had to experiment with a variety of ball handling chores.

Early deficits are becoming a bad habit.

Outside of Caron Butler’s game beginning 3-pointer, the Clippers again found themselves down early and digging out of double digit holes the rest of the way. Washington held a 12 point advantage in the 3rd and 4th quarters, the Clippers chipping away as they did against Boston the previous day, only to watch their opponents regroup and jump back out on top. When healthy, this trend was reversed and the team needs to come out with far more fight and purpose than they have, especially knowing they are compromised. Without their three top starters available, the Clippers coaching staff doesn’t seem to be able to adjust their strategies and come in with better game plans. Perhaps Vinnie Del Negro could take a page from Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and learn to “win ugly” until his starters return? After all, the Bulls are tied for 1st place in their division despite the losses of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Kirk Hinrich, why can’t the Clippers duplicate that success?

Watch your backs, Clippers, your lead is dwindling.

With this latest faltering road swing, the Clippers once secure hold on a top four playoff spot is becoming more precarious by the day. The Golden State Warriors are now only one back in the loss column, with the Memphis Grizzlies essentially tied for the fourth spot with a duplicate 16 loss record. If the Clippers don’t start clicking again – and they face a VERY tough stretch to finish out this road swing – they may drop all the way to 6th. If ever it was time for a “gut check moment,” now seems to be appropriate. Perhaps the team needs to huddle up and regain focus, or this dream season could collapse into a nightmare of “same old Clippers.”