LOS ANGELES | When the Washington Wizards reported for training camp back in September, coach Flip Saunders claimed “Our Time” as the team motto and had T-shirts and caps made up with the slogan. The Wizards’ home game operations staff even selected a song with “Our Time” as the main line.
But instead of playing according to that theme, the Wizards have looked, sounded and played more like something along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold,” going on scoring runs, slipping into funks and falling behind only to come thundering back before going cold again.
Monday night at Staples Center was no different as the Wizards again failed to play a full 48 minutes of consistent basketball, and fell 97-95 after another up-and-down game.
The Wizards were at their hottest when, coming out of halftime, they built a 17-point lead and appeared to be on the verge of running away with the game. Then they went ice cold, allowing the Clippers to close the quarter on a 20-5 run and tie the game at 69-69 just 27 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Clippers went up by eight with less than three minutes to play and the Wizards rebounded yet again, but couldn’t make it all the way back and suffered their fifth straight loss. Those five losses have all come by a combined 11 points, leaving the 7-15 Wizards well aware that they very well could be 12-10 if they could only close out games.
“We came back but we haven’t had that consistency,” Saunders said. “The positive is we’re in games, the negative is we’re losing them.”
Chris Kaman scored 15 fourth-quarter points to pace the Clippers, who improved to 10-13 and were coming off of a 25-point loss to the Spurs the night before. Kaman finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Eric Gordon led the team with 29 points while Barron Davis had a game-high 12 assists to go with 14 points.
Antawn Jamison scored 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Caron Butler had 20 points and seven assists.
With 2:51 left in the game and his team down 91-84, Arenas fouled out after scoring just 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting and turning the ball over six times. After two straight games of having the chance to win the game for his team — only to fail, missing a pair of free throws against both Indiana and Boston — Arenas could only sit and watch down the stretch.
“It’s hard because if this was before and I was in my old form, these are games that we would be pulling out. But I’m not,” Arenas said. “I haven’t played this game in two years. I’m, just to be honest, happy to be out there, having a chance to play again. In the meantime, it’s still a learning process for me. I’m learning referees. I’m learning spots, learning moves again. And I can’t do it in practice. All I can do is do it in the game.”
The Wizards gave a final charge, pulling within 96-95 with 11.8 seconds left on a Butler 3-pointer.
And Washington had the ball with just more than 10 seconds left on the clock. But Earl Boykins, who took Arenas’ place, dribbled the ball off his leg, and Eric Gordon scooped up the loose ball and flipped it ahead to Rasual Butler, who threw down a breakaway dunk just after the horn sounded, and although it didn’t count, it gave the Clipper faithful another thing to cheer for.
The Wizards didn’t exactly come storming out of the gates, but still did enough to take a 25-21 lead after the first quarter despite the fact that they made only nine of 26 attempts from the field. Jamison led the way with 13 first-quarter points, but Arenas went scoreless in the period after missing all four shots he took.
First-half lulls have been a common occurrence for the Wizards much of this season, and Monday night was no different. For the third straight game, Washington’s lull came in the second quarter. The Wizards opened the period by missing six straight shots.
The only thing saving Washington, which made only eight of 24 shots, was that the Clippers weren’t much better, going 7-for-20 from the field.
Los Angeles did go up 37-31 with just more than four minutes left in the first half, but Washington used a 13-2 run — which included Arenas scoring all five of his first-half points in the final 2:25 of the second quarter — to go back up 44-39 at the break.
It looked as if the Wizards had dodged a bullet by managing to avoid falling into a significant hole during the slump. And they came out after halftime and used a 20-8 run to build a 64-47 lead midway through the third quarter.
But not even that advantage was safe for the Wizards, who went cold yet again and missed six of their seven final shots of the third quarter, and also committed three turnovers. Meanwhile the Clippers came roaring back with a 20-5 charge that cut the lead to 69-67 heading into the fourth quarter.
The turnover woes continued in the fourth quarter as Washington coughed the ball up seven more times (11 of their 18 turnovers came in the second half) to additional aid the Clippers’ efforts.
The final turnover came when Boykins was trying to get the ball up the court to set up a teammate for either a game-tying or possibly game-winning shot. But instead, he lost the ball, and Washington was dealt it’s fifth straight loss.
“Turnovers, being impatient defensively. We got a good sense that they were about to quit, but anytime you give a team life and the crowd gets into it,” Jamison said, reflecting on the blown 17-point lead and resulting defeat. “Just turnovers, bad shots, not executing. Things that got us to that point and then we got away from that.”