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Both teams finished with 19-63 records last season but are now headed in seemingly opposite directions. While the Clippers were reflecting on their improved outlook after Sunday’s game, the Wizards were again left to explain what had gone wrong. Washington is now 14-29 and has lost three straight, including a 112-88 loss against Miami on Friday. "In our last two games we’ve been horrendous at the beginning of games and the beginning of halves," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "Our starters haven’t given us a consistent effort to start games, and our bench, they talk about playing and wanting to play—they’ve had opportunities. They continue to not produce."
"Again we have to call a timeout with 8:35 left in the first quarter. I mean, that’s getting ridiculous," said Saunders after the game. Pathetic is more like it. The Wizards can talk all they want about stilll being in some kind of contention for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern conference. But it's a mirage that with each game Washington plays is revealing itself to be nothing but more arid, dry wasteland and desert. The Wizards are now 6 1/2 games behind Chicago.
On defense, the Wizards continued to have trouble containing the ball as the Clippers had little trouble penetrating into the lane. It was not just guards like Davis and Mardy Collins (5 assists) who were able to drive into the paint, but also forwards like Rasual Butler who finished with 4 assists.
The Wizards had their second-lowest scoring output of the season, but again, imagine if they didn't have Mike James. James scored 11 points with two assists in his second game of the season -- and first at home. He provided an immediate spark when he entered the game with 2:23 left in the second period. The Wizards were trailing 48-40 when he stepped on the court, and he quickly hit an 11-foot jumper and later had a steal to set up a Haywood three-point play. If only James was ready to enter the game at the start. After initially ignoring Saunders, James's teammates actually had to inform James that Saunders wanted him. "It was almost like one of those dreams, where you're half sleep and you hear somebody calling you. You're like, 'I think somebody is calling me right now, but I'm not going to get up,' " James said. "The first time, at the beginning of the season, he called Mike Miller's name, but he called, 'Mike.' He called it twice. I popped up and ran to the scorers' table. He said, 'No, not you, Mike. The other Mike.' I'll never make that mistake again."
Late in the second quarter, Mike James saw his first game action since November 6. James had been inactive for over half of the Wizards previous 42 games, and when Flip Saunders called on him to enter the game, one of James’ teammates had to tap him to let him know his time had come. For not having played in over two months, James made a significant impact, knocking down a floater during the Wizards' 8-0 run to close the first half. In his 19 minutes on the floor, James chipped in 11 points off the bench. Flip Saunders mentioned that the 34-year old could work his way back into the rotation for good. "Everybody is going to have an opportunity to play. We have to find guys that are going to continue to do what we ask them to do," said Saunders. "Again, we have to call a timeout with 8:39 into the first quarter and that’s ridiculous. In 15 years, I have very rarely called timeouts before seven minutes into the quarter. That shows you that we are not carrying out what we’re supposed to do."
Coming off a 20-point loss, the Clippers (20-23) had six different players score in double figures, led by Chris Kaman (20 points), Baron Davis (11 points, 11 assists) and Marcus Camby (12 points, 19 rebounds). Coming off a 24-point loss, the Wizards (14-29) relinquished the lead at 7-9 and never got it back. Washington gave up a 7-0 run early in the second quarter, a 12-0 run early in the third, and then scored just 10 points in the fourth.
Another factor for the Clippers’ success: They keep the Wizards off the line, a task they performed horribly in Denver on Thursday night. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that DeShawn Stevenson (a 28.4 percent shooter) takes all seven of his attempts from 18 feet and beyond, Nick Young (69th out of 71 SGs in assist rate) isn’t close on his three heaves, and Caron Butler fires up 13 of his 17 attempts outside the paint (knocking down only 4 of those, and 0-7 on the right side from 18 and beyond). But much of that shot selection we can chalk up to an energized defense that blankets the perimeter.