In recent days, headlines from the nation’s capital centered on a group of high-profile D.C. figures whose infighting had led to questions of leadership and allegiance.
The Washington Wizards, of course.
The franchise fined All-Star guard John Wall after he reportedly cursed out his coach during a recent practice that also featured two confrontations between teammates. The backdrop to the heated practice was a 5-11 start that led to questions about the job status of both coach Scott Brooks and longtime general manager Ernie Grunfeld and an ESPN report that the team was open to trading anyone on the roster.
It would have been hard to imagine a starker contrast between two teams than that of the Wizards and their opponent Tuesday, the Clippers. Los Angeles entered boasting a united locker room and clutch second-half play that fueled their NBA-leading five-game winning streak.
Before tipoff at Capital One Arena, coach Doc Rivers warned the Wizards were like “dynamite that hasn’t gone off yet.”
After building a 24-point lead the Clippers committed 12 turnovers and were outscored by 26 in the second half en route to a 125-118 loss. It ties a franchise record for the largest lead lost since 1978-79, when the franchise first became known as the Clippers.
“We let a wounded team off the mat,” Rivers said, “and it’s a good lesson for us.”
Wall scored 30 points and for once, it wasn’t the Clippers’ bench making big plays late but their opponent’s. Wizards reserves Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky combined for 33 points. Twenty-one of Clippers forward Tobias Harris’ team-high 29 points came before halftime and Montrezl Harrell added 20 points and nine rebounds.
After enduring days of questions about whether their locker room was fractured, the Wizards (6-11) called the victory a salve but not a solution.
“We’ve still got a lot to fix -- it’s one game,” said Bradley Beal, who scored 27 points. “I’m still not happy and I know [our team] isn’t happy with where we are. We have a lot of work to do, but we definitely take a lot of positives out of [tonight]. Especially with all the negativity that’s been surrounding us, we take all the positives we can get.”
There was little positive to take out of the first half for Washington. Chants of “Fire Ernie!” and boos were heard in the arena’s lower bowl as the Clippers (11-6) shot 58% and led by 19 at halftime. By the third quarter, two fans sitting just feet behind the Wizards’ bench held signs reading “IT STARTS AT THE TOP.”
The Clippers had extended their winning streak by overcoming double-digit deficits in Brooklyn and Atlanta but proved shakier in the role reversal, trying to protect a big lead.
Harrell scored 12 of his team’s first 14 points in the fourth quarter and remained in the game after falling hard to the court, undercut by Wall while attempting to catch a full-court pass. But the Clippers looked gassed on the second night of back-to-back games. The ball movement that built their lead disappeared in a second-half dribbling competition.
After missing Monday’s victory in Atlanta because of illness, Danilo Gallinari was not fully healthy in his return and was held without a field goal in 28 minutes, the fifth time in 10 seasons that he failed to make a shot when playing more than 20 minutes.
Center Marcin Gortat was given mild cheers before his first game in Washington since being traded in July, which he said he appreciated. He left the franchise somewhat acrimoniously following a midseason spat with Wall, but said reading coverage of his former team’s squabbles was “tough.”
Yet “bottom line,” he added, “is it ain’t my problem. I’m already gone.”
So, too, is the Clippers’ winning streak. They called their three-game road trip a “success” but its ending stung. Players and coaches processed it silently as they walked off the court.
“If you told me before I left we’d be 2-1, I probably would have said, ‘good,’” Rivers said. “But I’m greedy. I wanted them all.”