The LA Clippers hunt down the Washington Wizards in what was a much-needed win

Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Clippers
Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Clippers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

The NBA, in more ways than one, is an animal kingdom. The strongest live on, the weakest get preyed on.

The Clippers have been apex predators for much of the season, feared but admittedly going through a rough stretch since the All-Star break. Matched up against the Washington Wizards, one of the weakest of preys, however, the Clippers ripped them apart mercilessly, enjoying themselves a long-awaited feast.

"I thought it was really good," head coach Tyronn Lue said. "PG, Kawhi and James...getting in the rhythm, getting the ball in their spots and taking care of the basketball...that's what we want to be if we want to be an elite team."

The Clippers came into their Friday night matchup having dropped three of their last four games — one came in gut-wrenching fashion as they blew a 21-point lead against their crosstown rivals. The post-All-Star Clips also had the fifth-worst defensive rating and their offensive rating plummeted from third-best to 20th in the league.

But in Downtown Los Angeles' Friday night festivities, the home team began their hunt early in the game. They didn't give the Wizards any chance to run away with their early first-quarter lead, as they dominated them in a 140-115 blowout win.

Paul George, despite missing the past week due to left knee soreness, put the team on his back to start the game. The silky-smooth scorer worked his magic early, finishing the first quarter with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He finished the game with 22 points and six rebounds.

George's scoring showcase had all that was missing from the Clippers' last three losses. It was masterfully aggressive, purposeful yet fluid and, most of all, exhilirating. For much of the game, the Clippers looked like the fear-imposing, star-studded team they were in December and January.

Where there was a Paul George show in the first quarter, there was the vintage crowd-lifting performance by James Harden in the second.

Harden took the baton straight out of George's hands and did so divinely. The former MVP turned the clock back in the second quarter, draining four three-pointers in a row en route to a 21-point quarter. He missed just two of his nine shot attempts.

“James, he plays the game the right way,” Lue said. “Takes what the defense gives him, and that’s what great players do. A slow start doesn’t deter them from being aggressive and doing what they do.”

Behind the more showy heroics of George and Harden were the steady showing from the rest of the team. Kawhi Leonard finished with 27 points and nine rebounds. Daniel Theis put up a solid outing in the absence of Ivica Zubac, while Terance Mann enjoyed himself a 12-point night on 6-of-7 shooting.

But the smiles and giggles from Russell Westbrook bobblehead night would end prematurely as Westbrook made his way back to the locker room after hurting his hand after trying to steal the ball from Jordan Poole. The team later announced the veteran point guard suffered a left-hand fracture. He has played in 79 consecutive games since joining the team.

“I just feel bad for Russ right now," Lue said. “You never want to see a player get hurt…I don’t know if he needs surgery or anything yet, but he’s out right now, so just trying to figure it out.”

In the animal kingdom that the NBA is, players get injured, championship hopes die and dynasties come to an end. The Clippers came out of Friday with both a reason to be cheerful and worried. They put up a refreshing big scoring night but lost a vocal leader in Westbrook.

How the Clippers respond in Westbrook's absence will dictate whether they remain the hunters or become the hunted.